Game 21 Recap: Blazers 89, Jazz 93

January 30, 2012; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) is defended by Utah Jazz power forward Paul Millsap (24) during the second half at EnergySolutions Arena. The Jazz defeated the Trail Blazers 93-89. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

The way you react to Portland’s most recent road loss might tell you a little something about where you stand with this current Blazer team or any of the Blazer teams in the recent past.

If you’re disgusted because Portland dropped another winnable game by turning the ball over at key moments, not closing out quarters, and not stepping on the gas when a double-digit victory was well in sight, you’re probably the type of fan that thinks a 50-win season should be a 55-win season, and the head coach should be fired every year the team doesn’t make the Conference Finals.

If you’re pumped that the Blazers went into an overly hostile environment, gave a tough Jazz team a real run for their money, and but for some poor outside shooting and an inopportune injury to Nicolas Batum would have come out with one of their bigger road wins of the season, you’re probably the type of fan that thinks a first round exit three years in a row is a great stretch for the franchise.

If you’re neither shocked nor surprised that Portland put together 30+ plus minutes of winning basketball, outplayed a good team for stretches, then got badly outplayed on the way to a “season defining” win for their opponent, then you are probably like me. Meaning, you have no idea what to make of this team.

At times Monday night, Portland looked crisp on offense, made the extra pass to get the ball to the open guy, attacked the rim, and didn’t turn the ball over. During those moments, the Blazers were clearly the better team, and Utah had to do everything in their power just to stay in the game.

At other times, Portland couldn’t buy a bucket, movement stalled entirely, the ball was bouncing off guys’ feet. During those moments, not only did the Blazers’ offense completely disappear, their defense went too. When that happened it was all Jazz, and Portland played like they wanted no part of EnergySolutions Arena, or a road win anywhere.

There’s not a whole lot I can think of to say at this point, except that the Blazers are in danger of finishing at .500 if they don’t figure out how to win on the road. During the six-game road trip that recently ended, the Blazers came out slow some nights, and some nights finished poorly. Monday, Portland started fine, and picked up a bit of speed in the second and third quarters–leading by 10 on a couple of occasions during those periods–but when Utah made the run everybody knew was coming, the Blazers just didn’t have a response.

Between the 9:10 and 3:29 marks in the fourth quarter, Portland didn’t score a single point. Over that span, the Jazz went from down five to up six. During that stretch nobody in a Blazer jersey could hit anything, and on top of that Portland was giving up lay-ups and offensive rebounds, and was getting denied at the rim. That late in the game, the Blazers just couldn’t afford to stop showing up.

There is something Portland could have done, that might have made a difference: attack the basket. The Blazers have always had a tendency to do the counter-intuitive thing and start jacking up more jump shots as their team shooting percentage nosedives. If Portland had stopped settling for jump shots, and gone at the rim, they might have been able get better looks, and they might have been able to get to the foul line. Monday night, the Blazers shot 13 free throws. The Jazz shot 38. Utah’s +16 from the charity stripe was the final difference four times over.

Portland has good foul shooters, but they need to get to the line to prove it. Plus, getting free throws can stall an opponent’s run, and can help kick-start an offense that has fallen flat. Going forward, the Blazers need to focus on getting shots inside, getting to the rim, and getting to the foul line.

OK, so that was the game. Now to address the only thing anybody is going to remember about Monday night. With 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter and Portland trailing by two, Nicolas Batum–the only Blazer to do ANYTHING in the fourth quarter–took a hand-off from LaMarcus Aldridge off an in-bounds play, turned the corner, appeared to jam his knee, and collapsed to the deck.

He lost the ball, and basically the game, but right now that’s of little importance. Nic wasn’t extended by Portland last week, but he’s still a very very important piece of this franchise. An injury to Batum, one that means he’s going to miss some time (or GASP a season) is not something anybody wants to see, and WILL be a huge blow to this team’s potential. As of right now, the Trail Blazers’ official tweeter feed says he will undergo an MRI back home in Portland on Tuesday. I’m sure as soon as they know the prognosis, we’ll know it too. If it’s any consolation, Nic seemed to be able to walk himself into the locker room.

The word out of Utah is that Portland gave this game away. At some point, though, they really are going to have to figure out how not to give games like this away. Portland is back at the Rose Garden on Wednesday against the Charlotte Bobcats. The Blazers have been just as good at home as they’ve been bad on the road, which, in my opinion, doesn’t make the road losses any less frustrating.

Couple of things:

  • Apparently the people in Utah are pushing hard to get Paul Millsap into the All-Star Game. I’m not against Millsap getting into the All-Star Game, but I do think that if he’s in LA is definitely in. Monday’s national highlight packages will no doubt feature Millsap’s top of the key J with 1:31 left to play that gave Utah a five-point lead, but in the third quarter, it was LaMarcus Aldridge producing the mid-range jumper highlights. LA finished with 25 points to lead all scorers, hitting 11-0f-20 from the field. All-Star numbers.
  • The big stat that is going to stand out in this one, bigger than the disparity in free throws, will be Portland’s 5-of-20 from three. The Blazers need to make threes if they are going to take 20 of them. Utah missed a bunch of threes too, but nine possessions that ended in missed threes is better than 15. Also, not being confident in the three ball probably led to Wesley Matthews not taking an open three with Portland down three with five seconds left. Wesley needs to at the very least take that shot.
  • One more big stat: 18 offensive rebounds for the Jazz. Utah got their last offensive rebound on a missed free throw with the lead at only two. Portland didn’t have Marcus Camby in because they had no timeouts–all part of the last 20 seconds that produced basically nothing for the Blazers–but that’s only kind of an excuse for losing an offensive board to Gordon Hayward.
  • Minutes Watch: 8:02 for Craig Smith. Rhino’s minutes have been dwindling. I think he needs to stay in the rotation, though probably not at the expense of LaMarcus’s minutes, because he does seem to be one of the few guys who looks to attack the basket before shooting the mid-range jumper.
  • Standings Watch: According to Yahoo (which sometimes differs some from NBA.com) Portland came into Monday’s game in 7th, behind Houston at 6 and Utah at 5, and ahead of the Lakers in 8th and San Antonio in 9th. Sunday the Lakers win; Monday night Houston loses, Portland loses, San Antonio wins. Monday night (with Clippers/OKC in progress) Portland falls to 8, the Lakers leap to 7, San Antonio and Houston swap the 6 and 9 positions.

Box Score

Standings

Purple and Blues

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Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject

Nicolas Batum (88) is helped off the court after injuring his leg during the second half. Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

Topics: Blazers, Craig Smith, Gordon Hayward, Jazz, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Paul Millsap, Wesley Matthews

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