Savor this one, Portland fans, because it might be the last one like it we’ll see all season. After Tuesday’s drubbing of one of the worst road teams ever in the Washington Wizards, the Blazers’ remaining home schedule looks like this: San Antonio 57-13, Oklahoma City 45-24, Dallas 49-21, (the odd man out) Golden State 30-41, LA Lakers 50-20 (pending the outcome of their marathon match-up with the Phoenix Suns), and Memphis 39-32. Yes a few of these games upcoming are against teams that have already clinched a playoff spot, and may or may not be looking to rest some guys, and one game is against the Golden State Warriors. Having said that, LA and Dallas will be fighting for the number two spot in the Western Conference, and Memphis, minus Rudy Gay, will be playing for their Playoff lives. The point of all this: there will be no more 38-point wins in the Rose Garden in 2010-11. So, like I said, savor it.
All basketball fans will agree, there are very two distinct tiers of teams in the NBA. You have your Playoff teams, Portland is among those, and you have your other teams, Washington falls into this category. Early in the season, we can all identify which is which, but because the season has to be played in order to get to the Playoffs everyone is created equal, or at least more equal. That’s part of the reason why a team like Washington can beat a team like Portland in November. Mathematically, their season isn’t over. The same is not true in March. Whatever the individuals on the Washington squad are playing for at this point, the Playoffs are not among them.
On the other side of the spectrum is Portland. Every game matters from now until the end of the regular season, and when those games are over the real season begins. The difference between Playoff and non-Playoff teams was never more evident than Tuesday night. In the first quarter, the Washington Wizards put about five solid minutes of basketball together, playing defense, working offensive sets, and scoring points in the paint. The up-shot of all this play: a four-point lead for the Wiz with 5:52 remaining in the opening quarter, and a respectable deficit of six after 12 minutes. Following the opening quarter Washington’s scoring cratered, Portland’s offense and defense improved, and this thing was over in a hurry. There’s a simple explanation for all of this: a loss for the Blazers meant more than a win for the Wizards. Portland couldn’t afford to lose on Tuesday; for Washington it didn’t matter either way.
Tuesday’s leading man was once again Gerald Wallace, but there were plenty of stars for Portland. Wallace finished with 28 points and eight rebounds, hitting 10 of his 14 field goal attempts. Again, Crash seems to get his feet under him on the defensive end and on the boards, which then leads to his offense. Wallace’s defense will give the Blazers a serious edge in the Playoffs, but his offense gives Portland another wrinkle that just might be the difference maker. Along with Crash, LaMarcus Aldridge played another fantastic game. Washington has some length inside, but guys like JaVale McGee and Yi Jianlian are not the best on the ball defenders. LA kept these guys on their toes, hitting turn around jumpers when they were letting him catch the ball on the low block, and spinning to the hoop for the alley-oop when he was fronted. The third Blazer starter to reach at least 22 points was Nicolas Batum. Following up a decent performance in Los Angeles, one of his better shooting halves, Batum, like LaMarcus, was able to score from the inside and outside. Nic attacking the rim on the screen and hand-off play with LA is starting to look like a decent go to.
One of the negative stories of Tuesday’s game was the performance of Brandon Roy. In 20 minutes, Roy hit only a single free throw, missing all six of his field goal attempts. Brandon’s single point was nearly the worst offensive performance of his career, and made him the lowest scoring Blazer of the game that played more than five minutes. Post game, Brandon said he felt fine, good even, and that people shouldn’t look to0 far into his failure to produce since his big night against Dallas. Roy’s shooting touch has definitely been off, to say the least, but there’s a pretty good chance that if he continues to play with confidence the shots might start falling during another important game. The nice thing about what’s going on with Brandon in games like Tuesday, it doesn’t matter that he misses jumpers. Coming down the stretch, if Portland needs a big shot against a good team, there’s a good chance Brandon either will not be on the floor, or will not have the ball in his hands. That’s fine with me.
Once again, coach Nate McMillan was a little late to go to his bench, but one bench player that got a little bit of regular game run was D-League call up Chris Johnson. Johnson got minutes Tuesday because Marcus Camby was held out due to his ankle injury. Late in the fourth quarter, Rudy Fernandez tried to hit Johnson for a dunk on the fast break. Johnson stumbled and the ball flew out-of-bounds. A few possessions later, Johnson redeemed himself with a nice baseline dunk and the foul. Johnson’s dunk was a Chalupa basket, earning his stay in Portland for the remainder of the season.
Portland gets the next two days off, and can watch their game tape of Tuesday’s win and last week’s win against the Cleveland Cavaliers. It won’t help them prepare for Friday at home against the Spurs, but it might give them a boost of confidence knowing they can beat two teams by a combined score of 222-146.
Just one quick thought:
- Washington has two interesting young players in John Wall and JaVale McGee. These are two guys with basically unlimited potential with huge holes in their games that need to be corrected at some point. Wall can’t shoot, and JaVale can’t seem to figure out his offensive game at all. However, there is not a point guard faster from end-to-end than John Wall, and JaVale McGee might yet become one of the best shot blockers ever. McGee caught a lay-up attempt by Wesley Matthews, and John Wall dusted every Blazer that tried to guard him. The downside: Wall finished with nine points, McGee with eight. For all the exciting things they did, neither was a factor at all.