You kind of had to see this one coming. Portland has dragged themselves out of the gate now four nights in a row, and for three of those four nights they’ve been able to get hot for just long enough to win. The Blazers have had the advantage of playing bad teams, and although they came into Monday’s contest winners of five straight, they haven’t played all that well over the month of January. It seemed inevitable that one of these nights Portland would spend too much time trying to get going, and end up losing to a bad team that gets hot and sees opportunity. The lucky team was the Kings, but it could have very easily been the Pacers or the Clippers before them.
Here’s basically what happened with Portland. The Blazers set the throttle to cruise control, or maybe idle, and just hoped that Sacramento would do enough wrong over the course of 48 minutes that they wouldn’t win. Here’ what happened with Sacramento. They came out and played hard, though not remarkably well, and they made all the big plays down the stretch. In the last two come-from-behind affairs at the Rose Garden,it’s been Portland coming up with the big shots and the big stops. Monday, the Blazers looked sloppy handling the ball, inefficient getting hoops late in the fourth, and absolutely uninterested on defense. It’s not the end of the world, losing at home to a nine-win team, but it isn’t really something you love to see, especially given that the last game in January and the first game in February are against two of the best teams in the league.
There were a few positive takeaways from Monday’s loss, and I’ll start with those. Andre Miller played a nice game, coming back from a stomach ailment that apparently landed him in the hospital. Dre scored 18 and handed out five assists. When Portland was still in the game, right at the beginning of the fourth quarter, it looked like Andre might be able to lead the charge. He blew by rookie power forward DaMarcus Cousins for a layup that cut the deficit to four with eight minutes to play, the sixth point of an eight-point burst from Miller, but in the end Andre’s play wasn’t quit enough. When Cousins was replaced by Samuel Dalembert, who did a great job on LaMarcus Aldridge and just guarding the rim in general, all Blazer action at the rim stopped. Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum also played pretty well considering the games ultimate outcome. Matthews looked good shooting and going to the hoop, finishing with 21 points, and Nicolas provided a good all-around effort, scoring 16 and pulling down nine rebounds. The nights Wesley and Nicolas had were both good and bad though. Good because they are both showing increased consistency. Bad because it showed that although the Blazers need those guys to show up in order to win, the combination of a good night from Nic and a good night from Wesley doesn’t necessarily mean a victory for Portland.
Which brings me to the negative from Monday night. LaMarcus Aldridge. I hate to say that, seeing as LA has really been showing up lately, but Monday he wasn’t there. Not even old LaMarcus showed up. After the game he was asked if getting all the attention lately, especially the Western Conference Player of the Week honors, has finally gotten to him. LA said no, it hadn’t, and let’s all hope that he was telling the truth. I can take an off night from LA, especially given the way he was defended by Samuel Dalembert, but it’s a really bad thing if LaMarcus is about to get in his own head about getting national recognition. He needs to play at a high level every night, and he’s begun to achieve that. Now he needs to learn if he can perform on a high level while being recognized for performing at a high level. He’s got two big tests coming up. He bettered both of the young power forwards that were looking to jump him for dominance in the Western Conference, in case you forgot I’m talking about Kevin Love and Blake Griffin, but coming into Portland over the next week and change are two of the best power forwards ever. Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett helped to define the four position, in such a way that a player like LaMarcus Aldridge probably doesn’t exist without them. If LA wants to get into the All-Star game, and the player of the week honors makes that outcome seem more and more likely, good performances against Duncan and KG are a must. Good performances against those guys become even more important if LA is suddenly having to deal with confidence issues.
Other than LaMarcus, there was plenty of awful play from the Blazers to go around. Here’s just a taste. Rudy Fernandez: 1-of-10 from the field, 0-of-7 from three, three turnovers, 2 points, 25 minutes. Team turnovers: 17. Points in the fourth quarter: 16. Bench points: 15 (in comparison, the Kings’ Carl Landry came off the bench and scored 16 points). Shooting percentages: 35% from the field, 33% from three. King’s shooting percentage: 50% from the field, 56& from three. You get the point, right? Too many Blazers played poorly, canceling out the work of the few that played well.
So that brings me to this final thought. Portland’s five-game win streak put them five games over .500. Thursday the Boston Celtics come to Portland, owners of league’s second best record at 33-10, and then next Tuesday the San Antonio Spurs hit the Rose City, owners of the league’s best record at 37-7. Portland then goes on the road to face the Denver Nuggets, the Indiana Pacers, and the Cleveland Cavaliers. If the best case scenario is Portland gets a split in their next two home games, then wins the games they should on the road, Cleveland and Indiana, that’s a push, still five games over .500. If, however, they can’t overcome Monday’s loss in time to get one of two at home, and then lose more than one on the road, Portland is looking at .500 once again.
I guess what I’m trying to say, in a roundabout fashion, is that Monday’s loss means something. If Portland wants to make any headway in the second half of the season they have to win games against bad teams. If they lose games against bad teams, they have to move on in a hurry.
One quick thought:
- Michael Jordan was in the house Monday night, no doubt in town for something Nike related, and when he was shown on the big screen the Rose Garden crowd gave him a huge ovation.