In case you were wondering, yes Thursday’s game was actually an NBA game. All the players on both teams are professionals. They will all be drawing paychecks for their efforts. And ostensibly they are among the best basketball players in the world. Obviously, I’m not talking about Portland. The Blazers put together one of their best all around performances of the year. Every Blazer played. All but one scored. Six guys reached double figures in scoring. The team amassed 29 assists while holding their opponent to six. Portland shot 54% from the field. The list of Blazer accolades goes on and on.
The question about being professional, then, is aimed at the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now, I’m not saying that this is the fault of any of the players on this team, or of the head coach Byron Scott. In a lot of ways, this is the fault of Cleveland’s management. This Cleveland franchise was built around LeBron James. When he left, the team left with him. What the Cavs have now, are a bunch of guys playing with the hope of being in the league next year. These players include guys with raw talent but not much else such as Manny Harris, Samardo Samuels, and Alonzo Gee; guys that probably shouldn’t be in the league, Luke Harangody and Ryan Hollins; and one once great player who simply does not care at all anymore, Baron Davis.
I understand that Blazer fans were worried that this might be a trap game. That coming off one of the statement wins of the season Portland might overlook a lesser opponent and be made to pay. I’m like a lot of people in that I expect the worst for this team while silently hoping for the best. Thursday, the Blazers made sure not to underestimate their opponent, and because of that laid a whipping into one of the sorriest teams in NBA history in a way that the Cavs won’t forget any time soon.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. With 1:10 remaining in the first quarter Portland led 35-6. That’s right, after playing just under 11 minutes of basketball, the Blazers had managed to build a 29-point lead. Portland shot a nice 70% in the first quarter, getting 22 of their points in the paint, but the stats from the other end are even more impressive. Cleveland shot 2-of-14 from the field, and 1-of-6 from the three. The Cavs only broke double figures in the first quarter by going 7-of-7 from the line.
What’s remarkable is that the first quarter wasn’t even the worst it would get for Cleveland. After playing a respectable second quarter, in which shooting 50% from the field elevated their first half shooting percentage to 31%, the Cavs managed only 11 points in the third. At it’s largest, Portland’s lead ballooned to 44.
But enough about this game. Yes there were plenty of great things to talk about as far as the Blazer offense and defense played. And yes a blowout is exactly what this team needed. But we all know those things. I want to spend a few minutes talking about why I think Thursday’s game, as it was, may actually have been bad for the NBA as a whole.
Post game the Blazers, and especially Nate McMillan, were quick to say that they came out within the intention of winning, but it was never their goal to embarrass the Cavs. In fact, in Nate’s post game remarks he rebutted the charge of embarrassment before anybody in the media even brought it up. So clearly it was on everybody’s mind. In the NBA there is a real sense of competition between teams, hence all the almost fist fights and shoving matches that make SportsCenter every season. But at the end of the day all these guys are essentially co-workers at the same company. If the product suffers because of one team, it suffers for all teams. Looking at Cleveland, it is clear that this product is suffering.
I’m not going to blame it all on Lebron, or his desire to play in a warm city with a couple of his good buddies, but take a look at the way the league is going. The star players have all the power and they are calling all the shots. Part of that means getting to play where they want to play. Because the talent level in the NBA, the real All-Star talent level, is finite, concentration in a few areas means other areas are completely left out. Meaning that if you take two good players to make one team with 65+ wins, you may have created two other teams that win in the neighborhood of 20 games. I have no solution for this problem, other than eliminating a few of the teams, but I will say that it’s pretty clear to me why the owners are going to lock out the players after this season. They want the balance of power to shift back in their direction, and they want to do it for the good of the product.
I want to make it clear that I am not taking the side of the owners. I want there to be an NBA season next year. But I understand not wanting to see three or four more teams go the way of the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers.
So there you have it. Like everybody in Portland I was happy to see the Blazers get out and destroy somebody. It doesn’t mean much, and it will be interesting to see how this carries over into Saturday’s match-up with the Philadelphia 76ers. If there is a trap game, Saturday’s could be the one. Philly has beaten Portland a bunch of times in the last two seasons, including twice in 2008-09 when they had Andre Miller, and once already this year. The Sixers aren’t nearly as bad as the Cavs, in fact as of this writing they are a single game over .500 and practically a lock for the Playoffs. The Blazers didn’t let down after their big win against Dallas, and hopefully they still have a few punches left after leveling Cleveland in basically six minutes of play.
Just two quick thoughts:
- Cleveland head coach Byron Scott took a long time coming out of the visiting locker room to address the media. When he appeared he wasn’t a happy man, attacking his team’s mental toughness and effort. Scott has a long history as a successful head coach in the NBA, and could very likely right the ship in the Cleve if given the right pieces and the right amount of time. I have never been, and likely never will be, a head coach, but I wonder how one gathers the effort every night to coach a team like the Cleveland Cavaliers, and then still has energy in the tank to take them out to the woodshed for a half an hour when said game is completed. It probably helped that Scott stayed seated almost the entire game.
- Nate McMillan didn’t clear his bench until Portland reached 100, and there was less than four minutes left to play. When asked post game why he wasn’t quicker to get Jarron Collins, Chris Johnson, and Armon Johnson into the game, he said that there was a whole quarter left to play, and that he was trying to establish some rotations. When asked about the play of Armon Johnson, Nate said that he shoots. Which is true. Johnson,who has seen limited to no action most of the season, put up an impressive five shots in just over three and a half minutes.