Nothing’s easy, Blazer fans should be well aware of that by this point. You could even take it one further. This season, and the last, everything has been hard. No doubt that’s why so many Portland fans were shocked, angry, and down right irate when given the opportunity to clinch a Playoff spot against an inferior opponent Tuesday night, the Blazers promptly channeled the Butler Bulldogs, bricked almost all their shots, and were run out of the gym by the Golden State Warriors.
Here’s the thing, though. Portland’s Playoff chances were so good, 99.9% by some calculations following the Blazers’ win last weekend over the Dallas Mavericks, a Houston Rockets loss midway through Tuesday’s first quarter was enough to guarantee Portland’s third straight trip to the post season. I’m sorry, but in my opinion that’s more important than losing this game. And I have some reasons.
First of all, Portland played absolutely terrible. You can bellyache about Brandon Roy playing horrible, complain about everybody getting beat to the glass, bemoan the shot selection, they are all valid complaints. But to say one is more valid than any other I would say is an exercise in futility. Not one Blazer had a good game. Not a single Blazer looked at all like a member of the team that in the last few weeks has beaten the Spurs, the Mavericks, and the Thunder, three of the top four teams in the Western Conference. If this game had come early in the season, we would likely be calling for lineup changes, rotation tinkering, those types of things that can be done to turn a losing team into a winning team. We’re way beyond that point now. Coach Nate McMillan said it best in his brief post-game wrap-up, burn the tape. There is nothing to be learned from this game. Throw it out; move on.
Second, Golden State is the kind of team that can beat Portland almost any night of the week. The Blazers have lost to the Warriors at least twice in each of the last four seasons. This is the kind of team that plays an up-tempo, freestyle type offense that can keep Portland from getting into their game. Tuesday, the Blazers never clicked offensively, and part of that was because of the offense from Golden State. The Warriors put three players in the neighborhood of 30 points. David Lee scored 29, Stephen Curry scored 28, and Monta Ellis hit the 30 mark on the nose. Ellis and Curry are amazing shooters that can get hot, stay hot, and blow teams away. David Lee is a streaky scorer, but has a history of big games against the often weak interior defense of the Blazers. When these three guys are all hitting, good luck. They don’t do it often, the reason why even if the Warriors won the rest of their games by 40 or more they would still fall way shy of the Playoffs. Late in the fourth quarter, I hope some of the more vitriolic Blazer bashers ditched Twitter and actually watched the offense of Steph Curry. This kid can flat out play.
So Portland clinches, but does it in an ignominious fashion. Like I said, I’ll take the Playoff spot, but it is true that the Blazers missed something of an opportunity. Portland is currently back in the sixth spot in the West, a full game ahead of New Orleans and two games back of Denver. The Nuggets lost Tuesday night to the Oklahoma City Thunder, so a win by Portland would have cut that margin in half. Although the likelihood is slim that the Blazers would catch the Nuggets, made slimmer still by Tuesday’s loss, there is always a chance that Portland could get caught and jumped by the Hornets.
The difference between sixth and seventh in the West is the difference between matching up with the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, or the Dallas Mavericks. Certainly Portland would prefer to face Dallas given the choice. New Orleans has games to play still against the Rockets, the Suns, the Grizzlies, the Jazz, and the Mavericks. NOLA most likely will not run the table, but if they do win enough to force Portland to take on the defending Champions in the first round, we’ll undoubtedly point to this game as being the one that effectively ended the Blazer season.
If you’re a fan that looks for the bad in the good, as some Blazer fans, myself included, are wont to be, go right ahead and point the finger at this game. The Blazers didn’t show up, Brandon Roy look out of place on the court for maybe the first time in his life, and there was absolutely no fight in anybody in a Portland jersey to even attempt at a late comeback.
But if you’re a fan that searches for the silver lining, think of it this way. Portland is playing very well right now, matching up against some of the best teams in the league. Two weeks ago, before this brutal final stretch, we looked at the two Golden State games and the Utah Jazz game as the three games that were going to get this team over the hump and into the Playoffs. Well this team didn’t want to get to the final 16 by beating up on the bad teams, they wanted to do it by beating the good teams. And by beating the good teams they have put themselves in a situation to play a team in the Playoffs they have more or less handled throughout the regular season. All things considered, this team is in pretty good shape.
Portland now has four games left, two home and two away. The first of those games is Thursday in Salt Lake City against the faltering Utah Jazz, a team that Tuesday night cast off an eight game losing streak and a month of March in which they won only four games by beating the Los Angeles Lakers by a single point at the Staples Center.
Just one quick thing:
- I want to talk ever so briefly about Brandon Roy, the Blazer who has suddenly become the brunt of a lot of hatred, anger, and criticism, and then probably not talk about it ever again. I can’t disagree with anybody that says his game is awful right now, or that when he is in the game Portland’s offense has a tendency to under perform. I can, however, disagree with people that say his career is over, or that he is no longer any good, or that he is the anchor around the neck of this franchise and that he is destine to drag it down to the depths of the league. Brandon has not played well, there is no denying that, and there are major question marks about his future. But one thing is abundantly clear, he is trying to play, and he is trying to earn all the money that everybody know feels like he doesn’t deserve. Beyond that, it seems slightly unfair to take shots at the guy that resurrected this team, and made the Portland Trail Blazers relevant again in the best professional league in the world. Especially since those people that are throwing him under the right now are likely the same people that hailed him as the savior not two seasons ago when he literally could do no wrong. It’s hard to watch a guy struggle, especially since he is the undisputed face of the franchise. But insulting Brandon, or blaming him solely for the failures of a team, feels a lot like kicking a guy when he’s down. That’s just my opinion.