So that happened. And immediately following that happening, something else happened, something akin to a mini panic. If you watched the local broadcast, which I did, you might have mistaken Friday night’s game in Charlotte to a one-game playoff for the fate of the city of Portland. The way Mike and Mike finished their call made it sound like the Blazers dropping a game against a weak team that they should have rolled meant the end of the season, the final nail in the coffin on a demoralizing road trip, etc.
Allow me to disagree. Yes, losing to Charlotte is never a good idea, and yes Portland should, and very well could, have won this game. But lets not forget what teams Portland has managed to already beat THIS WEEK. I know a win’s a win, and in the NBA you have to forget wins as fast, or faster, than losses. I’ve been around long enough, watched enough sports news, and read enough basketball blogs to know that the NBA season doesn’t allow teams to get too high after winning. I would say that you can suspend that rule when on back-to-back nights you beat two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, and three of the top 10 players in the league.
Does that excuse Portland from losing on Friday? Of course not. All I’m saying is that 2-1 on this trip after three games is probably better than anybody expected. And to get those two wins in Orlando and in Miami is something nobody thought was going to be possible. Mike Barrett closed his broadcast by implying that losing to Charlotte might have undone all the good of the past week. Not to spend too much time analyzing the broadcast and not the game, let me say just this on more time, I disagree.
As far as the game. I would say that it was a typical Portland game in regards to both the good and the bad. Portland built a lead early by attacking the rim, and let the game go late by relying on jump shots that weren’t falling. We’ve all seen this happen before, and we’ve pulled our collective hair out wondering what the Blazer have to do to keep a lead. My advice would be to keep it close. The win in Miami was neck and neck most of the way. Portland was never given the chance to relax and miss jump shots. So are the Blazers supposed to take a dive against bad teams and try to not establish big leads? That’s a pretty silly strategy, and one that no coach that wanted to keep his job should ever employ. What Portland needs to do is continue attacking even when they’re up. The problem is that Portland has had so few occasions to be up and on the verge of delivering a third quarter KO this season that you can’t really fault them for not knowing how to do it. This is the NBA, after all, if you give a team a chance they’ll come back, but not if they have to work too hard.
Along with Portland falling asleep at the switch in the second half, a guy named Stephen Jackson decided to show up. After missing a handful of games due to a hamstring injury, Jackson smelled blood in the water during the fourth quarter, and made Portland pay. Jackson has been a pro of one kind or another since 1997, and has done everything from playing professionally in Venezuela, to winning an NBA Championship with the San Antonio Spurs, to being immortalized as an integral part of The Malice at the Palace. Friday he showed how you sustain an NBA career. Shoot the lights out once or twice a month. No disrespect to Jackson, who is one of the NBA’s elite wings and an outstanding ball player, but he is just as likely to go 10-of-11 in a quarter a steal a win for his team as he is to go 0-of-11 in a quarter and completely derail his team.
Friday Stephen Jackson was on fire in the fourth quarter. Portland sent every defender they had at him and nobody stood a chance. Jackson scored 18 points in the decisive fourth quarter, and most of his jumpers barely touched the rim. People talk about getting in the zone, when the hoop is the size of a swimming pool and everything you throw at it goes in, and Jackson had that going Friday. Give him the credit. Without his efforts there is no way Portland losses.
The Blazers didn’t do themselves any favors at the free throw line, though. Wesley Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Patty Mills all missed big free throws late in the game. Patty’s off the hook a little. He came off the bench with less than five seconds to play and had to go make and miss to give Portland a last second chance to tie. Patty missed and missed, but that’s a tough situation to be thrown into. Wesley’s the real enigma though. Matthews had a big steal and a big three to keep the Blazers from going head first over the cliff in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter. Then with a chance to tie the game from the free throw line with the clock stopped he throws up a brick. I’m going to give him the out, and say that next year he makes that shot.
So Stephen Jackson spoiled Gerald Wallace’s return to Charlotte, and you have to believe that after what has been kicked around in the press following Wallace’s departure that it felt pretty good for Michael Jordan and the Bobcat brass. Losing to Charlotte hurts Portland only as much as losing to anybody hurts, beyond the simple sting of knowing this one was basically in the bag. Looking at the schedule at the end of last week, I said to myself a split on this road trip has to be seen as a favorable outcome. I amended that statement to myself by saying that the likely wins would come at the end, and that if Portland sustained back-to-back drubbings those closing games might be that much harder. I know that you want to build on wins, and not take steps backward at this point in the season. Having said that, the worst Portland can do is split this trip.
And even if they don’t win on Saturday in Atlanta, they beat LeBron and Dwayne Wade at home. Kobe Bryant didn’t do that.
Only one last thought on this one:
- The Blazers attempted more than twice as many three-pointers as Charlotte Friday night. The Blazers can knock teams out with the three and can knock themselves out when they miss the deep ball. Gerald Wallace was 3-of-6 from deep, and as much as you like to see him hitting, if there is one thing I would be leary of it would be turning a slasher like that into a shooter.