We’re getting close. A few weeks ago a 13 point quarter was a new low. At this point, a 13 point quarter would be a relief. Portland couldn’t buy a hoop in the final quarter Monday against the Memphis Grizzlies, not even breaking double figures, and basically handed the game to the home team. When I say we’re getting close, what I mean is, we’re nine points away from a quarter in which the Blazers don’t manage to score a single bucket. Is that how far we have to fall before some serious moves are made? I hope not, because there are a few things that have happened in the past few games, as bad as the last two have been, that make this season look almost salvageable.
Let’s start with the bad from Monday, so we can end this on a high note. First; turnovers. Portland simply did not take care of the ball. Although their 18 turnovers were only four more than Memphis’s total, the Blazers seemed to turn the ball over at the worst times. The Blazers have killed their own runs with sloppy passing and loose ball handling in their last few losses, and Monday was maybe the worst outing for momentum halting turnovers all season. When you play from behind as much as Portland has this season, you have to make sure to not make the kind of mistakes that undo three or four minutes of hard work. Monday Portland did themselves no favors, and in the process lost a game they could have easily won.
Second; the bench. Yes Nicolas Batum didn’t log a whole lot of minutes, and yes that is frustrating because on some nights he can be a difference maker. But he hasn’t been playing well enough to justify big minutes. Nic is a catch-22 at this moment in his career. He needs the minutes to get better, but he can’t get those minutes until he starts producing on a much more consistent basis. Monday night Nic played eight and a half minutes, many when the game was already over, and again did not contribute a single point. He’s rushing his shots and not getting to the hoop when he should. If Nic wants to get better offensively, he should go back to the Boston Celtics game a few weeks ago, and watch the video of his blow-by on Ray Allen. He needs to do that every time he has the ball on offense. It took Travis Outlaw almost two seasons to develop into a real threat from downtown, that’s not going to come from Nic overnight either. If he spends all of his time camped out around the three-point line he’s going to be seeing a lot more of the bench. And that’s good for nobody. Like Nic, Rudy Fernandez has been non-existent on offense. He hit only one three, and a few times he turned down perfectly good open looks. Rudy has gotten into the habit of taking whirling dervish style, off-balance, fade-away leaners in the lane. Nobody’s keeping track of his stats on that type of shot, but I’m sure he’s like 1-of-100 in his career, and we all remember the one he hit. Nic and Rudy need to switch mindsets. Nic needs to attack the rim, and Rudy needs to stop attacking the rim. Portland doesn’t really have a bench beyond Rudy and Nic right now, and that more than anything is the real problem. The Blazers need to do something to make their bench better, they’re leaning too hard on their starters to produce offense, and at this point they can only do that every other night, at best.
Third; Zach Randolph. Z-Bo was good for Memphis and bad for Portland. Somehow a guy with a negative vertical leap gets his hands on every rebound. What’s more, when Zach comes down with the ball around the hoop just head the other direction, because the dude is automatic from in close. Zach, of course, is off and on. But against Portland he often comes to play. Monday he was there in full effect. 25 points and 20 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end, and basically Zach, like he can be, was the games best player. Portland should know Zach’s game, but at this point it’s like spitting back at the rain when it comes to stopping Z. The Blazers are totally ineffective.
Ok, that’s the bad from Monday night. Because I feel like there has been such an emphasis on where the Blazers have failed in the last few weeks, I want to say a few words about what the Blazers did well in this loss, and there were a few things they did OK.
One thing that is very apparent, the starting five is coming together. There were stretches in Monday’s game when Portland was in control, and those stretches happened with Portland’s starters on the floor. The second positive takeaway from Monday was the way Portland battled back from a slow start. Scoring only 18 points in the game’s opening period made Monday a full 48 minutes of uphill basketball. But the Blazers battled, and made Monday’s somewhat of a game. Of course they broke their own back with the aforementioned fourth quarter brick fest. The positive is that Portland didn’t give up right off the bat. The question now is to figure out a way for the Blazers to keep it together for a whole game.
Portland drops back to below .500 with this loss. The Blazers finish this most recent road trip Wednesday against the Mavericks in Dallas.
Two quick thoughts before we move on:
- The bench woes are exacerbated by the cohesion of the starting unit. Wesley Matthews is a big reason for both of the good that’s being done by the starters and they bad that’s being done by the second unit. The problem is that Wes isn’t going back to the bench. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse here, but it’s on Rich Cho to make a trade to improve the Blazer’s bench, it’s not going to come from the personnel already wearing Blazer unis.
- As good as the starting five have been, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge have been pretty bad as of late. Brandon and LaMarcus combined to shoot 9-of-29. Not great numbers. Andre Miller and Wes are carrying the offense, Marcus Camby is taking care of business on the glass. If LA and B Roy can get rolling, this could still turn out to be a team. Like everything this season, though, it’s a pretty big IF.