Friday’s loss in Indianapolis begs one simple question: What is wrong with the Blazer’s road game? Portland’s road record, of 9-17, is not the worst in the league, but it’s not doing them any favors. The Blazers have already gone through one tough road stretch, winning only two road games out of 11 between November 28th and December 28th, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Portland’s only recent road victory of note was during that extended period of losing when they stole one from the Jazz in Salt Lake City. So the question again; is Portland doing something on the road that is causing them to lose, what is it that they’re doing, and how can it be remedied?
Here’s what I think the problem is: Portland has taken such an emotional beating over the last season and change that every night out feels like a do-or-die. There’s always the possibility that some other major piece will go down, or that one or two losses will turn into five or six. At home, the Blazers feed off this nervous energy. In the Rose Garden every Blazer run feels like a reversal of fortune. Portland has gotten down early plenty of times in home games, the difference in those games is that the home fans make the Blazers feel like they can win. On the road Portland doesn’t experience that energy. When they get down, as they often do, they more likely get taken out than redouble their efforts for a comeback.
Friday Portland was able to overcome an early deficit to tie the ballgame, but weren’t able to keep the Pacers from coming back to retake the lead. Much of Portland’s failure Friday night had to do with all the energy the Blazers had to burn while playing the vast majority of the evening up hill. Working hard to come back means that there’s no reserve energy to maintain.
So what’s the solution for the road woes of 2010-11? The answer to that looks easy on paper. Portland needs to execute their game plan; limit turnovers, keep the silly plays to a minimum, and make their mark on defense. Those things all sound easy, but in execution they seem to become almost impossible for Portland. Friday night, the Blazers managed only 33 points in the second half. Sure they outscored Indiana in the fourth period by one, 15 to 14, but that wasn’t nearly enough to overcome the 14-point deficit that they had entering the quarter. Also the almost all of the last 12 minutes was garbage time.
Along with not scoring, in the second half the Blazers also couldn’t play defense. Portland had far too many possessions in which they were unable to score that were then compounded by their inability to keep Indiana from scoring. Those incidences need to be reversed in the future if the Blazers want to get wins and stay in the playoff picture.
One more thing that continues to be a problem for Portland is the absence of the bench on the road. Apart from Rudy Fernandez, who scored 19 points, none of Portland’s four other bench players scored more than six. Those six came from Patty Mills, and he had to take 10 shots to get there. The final nail in Portland’s coffin Friday night was rebounds. With Marcus Camby still sidelined, Portland’s rebounding numbers have plummeted. Friday the Blazers were out-rebounded 58-to-39.
Portland has certainly played worse than they did against Indiana on Friday, and because of that we shouldn’t get too down about dropping a stinker to a bad team. With Marcus Camby coming back soon, Portland should be able to get some of its rebounding back. What Portland needs to worry about is getting their sea legs, and stringing together a few wins on the road. The Blazers have one more game on this trip, and then three more road games in February. With the Memphis Grizzlies having closed the gap between the eight and nine spots in the Western Conference, Portland needs to make up for some of the road problems they’ve had in the first half of the season that have carried over into the beginning of the stretch run.
Portland travels to Cleveland for a match-up with the almost historically bad Cleveland Cavaliers.
Just a few quick thoughts and notes:
- Chris Johnson was not retained for a second 10-day contract, meaning that he is not longer a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. Johnson’s dismissal had less to do with his play, he showed some nice leaping ability and a lot of potential in his limited minutes in his first stint as an NBA player, and more to do with Portland’s roster issues. Retaining Johnson would have meant keeping Marcus Camby on the shelf an extra two weeks, or cutting Sean Marks and adding Johnson for the rest of the way. Although Marks is pretty consistently bad, and a regular object of scorn by the fan base, his contract is guaranteed, and you can’t fault the Blazers brass for wanting the guy that their paying to at the very least be in uniform on a nightly basis
- As everybody knows at this point, LaMarcus Aldridge received the extremely rare double snub from the NBA All-Star Game. LA was snubbed by the coaches when he was not announced as a Western Conference reserve, and then was snubbed again when the Commish selected Kevin Love to replace the injured Yao Ming. Yao was voted in a as a starter, as he will be for as long as his name is on the ballot for fans to select the All-Star starters, and has not played since December. Sure Kevin Love has had a remarkable season, and as John Canzano so eloquently points out the NBA season is longer than 42 days, but there is one number that can not go unnoticed in this whole thing. That number is not 31 and 30, or whatever other numbers the former Lake O Laker has put up. That number is 11. The number of wins All-Star forward Kevin Love has led his team to over the course of this season. If Love deserved to be an All-Star, which I think he did, then LaMarcus deserved it even more. Here’s some more numbers: 37, 36, and 28. LA’s scoring numbers against Kevin Love. Here’s a few more 3 and 15. The number of times Portland has beaten Minnesota this season, and the number of times Portland has beaten Minnesota in a row. The last time the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Blazers was March 25, 2007. That happens to be the same year Kevin Love graduated from high school. Which means, as a professional basketball player, Kevin Love has never beaten LaMarcus Aldridge. Makes sense, then, that he should beat him out for an All-Star spot.