I’m not going to spend too much time on this one. For all that the Portland Trail Blazers fan base has had to endure over the last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ faithful have had it worse. Much worse. Imagine instead of being hurt, Brandon Roy left the Blazers to join two other superstars in a city that for shear cultural cache and awesomeness makes Portland look like, well Cleveland. Then imagine that he did it on national television. I’m sure we’ve all run this scenario through a time or two, and can imagine what it must be like to be a Cavs fan right about now.
What you saw on the court Saturday was a franchise depleted by injury versus a franchise depleted, period. Cleveland came out and played for the entire 48 minutes Saturday night, but it simply wasn’t enough, as it hasn’t been enough for Cleveland now 24 times in a row.
Coming in to Saturday’s game, the talk, and the pressure seemed to be squarely on the shoulders of the Blazers. This is a team that has been struggling on the road, and more than that has been struggling to string meaningful wins together all season. Denver, and then Indianapolis were expositions of Portland at their worst. Stagnant offense, lazy defense, zero energy. That same combination on Saturday could have spelled doom for the Blazers. And at times it almost did. Portland did something, though, that made the difference. They shot the ball well. Coach Nate McMillan has been saying it for months. When the Blazers shoot well they win. Portland is a team full of streaky shooters, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, Wesley Matthews, to a man it’s anyone’s guess how hot or cold they are going to be on any given night. Saturday they were hot; all of them.
Here are the lines for Portland’s wing players, starting with Nic. Batum was almost perfect from deep, and just as almost perfect from the floor. Nic was 6-of-8 from the field, and an incredible 5-of-6 from three. Batum’s only miss came when leaper Jamario Moon swatted his last three attempt into the third row. Nic played an almost flawless offensive game, but I would suggest this, next time he hits five threes in a row, throw in a pump fake on the sixth. Nicolas has the length to attack the rim with the best small forwards in the league. He tends to go either all drives or all J’s. A mix would take his game to that every so important NEXT LEVEL.
Wesley Matthews was nearly as consist from deep as Nicolas, and was even better going to hole. Wesley shot 11-of-17 from the field, and hit 5-of-7 from three. Wesley’s 31 points showed yet again that when he gets going, like really going, like 30 points or more, Portland is hard to beat. Rudy wasn’t quite as hot as his shooter brethren, but still provided some much needed offense. Rudy was 2-of-5 from range and 6-of-10 from inside. Over the last few outings, Rudy has started to look much more comfortable attacking the rim. He is no longer wheeling out of control at the basket, and his consistency has improved because of it. Saturday, the Blazers were completely unable to put the Cavs away. Every time Portland built a lead, Cleveland would respond with a run. Having hot knock-down shooters was the reason Portland was able to come away from the Q with a win.
Saturday wasn’t all good. Andre Miller could not get it going early. Luckily he overcame a slow start to pump in some important hoops in the evening’s final quarter. The real downside to Saturday though, and something that may or may not linger, was an injury sustained by Dante Cunningham. Luckily it wasn’t a knee or an ankle, Blazer killers both, and hopefully he’ll be back on the court sooner than later. Dante got the starting nod Saturday, due to the complete lack of size on the Cavs’ roster, and in the first half he took an inadvertent elbow to the face from Samardo Samuels after making a clean strip on the ball. DC left the game and didn’t return. The elbow may have broken some bones in Dante’s face, possibly around the eye. If that is the case, which we all hope it isn’t, this isn’t something to take lightly. Hopefully DC will be able to return. He’s been stalwart off the bench, and may be a truly un-fillable hole in the rotation.
Along with handing the Cavs a record breaking loss, or record tying depending on what time frame you’re looking at, Portland escaped another O-fer road trip. The Blazers return to Portland Monday to take on the Chicago Bulls, with the hope of jumping right back in to the playoff race.
Just a few quick thoughts:
- Many times this season Portland has looked lost in the free-for-all style that seems to be the favorite of many of the sub .500 teams in the NBA. The Blazers almost let Saturday slip away when the game opened up in the final quarter and change. One sequence that stood out and showed Portland’s lack of freestyle skill came late in the fourth. Portland claimed a rebound with under a minute to play and leading by four, and turned to take the ball up the court. The Cavs were unsure if they should foul, and for a moment or two there seemed to be actual confusion on the court. Instead of putting something together on the fly, with no defense set, and sealing the game, Portland called a time out. On the time out set play, Andre Miller missed an open jumper. It was a moot point because the Cavs didn’t make a basket on their possession, and Portland iced the game from the line, but I would like to see this team play a little better in the open game. I don’t know how that’s done, by Nate needs to work some chaos into his game plan. It’s pretty clear that planning for stuff has little to no effect on how actual games actually end up.
- As of this writing Portland and Memphis are tied for the eighth spot in the West. Memphis and Portland have played twice, each team winning once. The Blazers play the Grizz only one more time this season, and it’s Portland’s last home game. Conventional wisdom says that these two teams will likely be at this same spot in the standings at that time. Mark your calenders know, Rip City, Tuesday, April 12th is going to likely be one hell of a game.