February 10, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Jamal Crawford (right) is defended by New Orleans Hornets point guard Donald Sloan (12) during the second half of a game at the New Orleans Arena. The Trail Blazers defeated the Hornets 94-86. Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Game 27 Recap: Blazers 94, Hornets 86

So has everybody in Blazer-land exhaled? Or maybe you all made the right decision and watched Jeremy Lin on ESPN prove to the Lakers that people from Harvard are the best at everything; leading both the executive and judicial branches of the U.S. government, social networking, and now basketball. If you’re part of the latter group, you’ll be happy to know that Portland has once again managed to win on the road. If you’re in the former group, well I’m sure you’re probably scratching your head just a little bit.

Interesting how a team that loses both of its best players to other teams in the off-season (Chris Paul and David West in case you forgot), it’s best new player two games into this season (Eric Gordon with a knee thing), two of its better bench players earlier in the week (Carl Landry also with a knee thing and Jason Smith recovering from a concussion), the best player it has left a couple of days ago (Jarrett Jack also also with a knee thing), and that one guy that plays for the German national team, looks like Shrek if Shrek lived in Santa Monica, and was an All-Star once, right before tip (Chris Kaman due to an ankle injury), can still give the Blazers fits. One of these days Portland has to get an easy road win. Simple logic and probability says so.

Oh well. You take a tough win over a loss any day of the week. Even if getting that tough win means having to go a full 48 minutes against a team with at least one guy that not even the bloggers have ever heard of (that would be Donald Sloan if you’re keeping track at home).

Throughout the broadcast, Mike and Mike continually mentioned that although New Orleans has won only four games–and only twice in their last 24 tries–their overall point differential is not all that bad. This Hornet team loses, that’s true, but they just don’t get blown out. How does that happen? Well mostly it happens because they play a slobber knocker brand of basketball that basically results in lots of physical play very close to the rim, and a ton of slow-it-down, 24-second, half court possessions, ergo low scores. Trying to match those half court possessions nearly killed Portland Friday night.

It was hard to tell if the Blazers were tired from celebrating LaMarcus Aldridge’s All-Star nod, or if they just assumed NOLA wouldn’t show up, either way, Portland’s offense in the first half was not good. Basically for the first two quarters of the night the Blazer with the ball dribbled around at the top of the key while the four dudes without the ball stood around and watched.

We’ve seen this kind of offense before. It’s classic Nate McMillan/Brandon Roy. But there’s a big difference between what Portland has now, and what they had with Brandon on the ball. Brandon could create a shot with the ball in his hands better than almost anybody in the league. Right now there isn’t a guy in a Blazer jersey that can consistently attack the basket one-on-one and get a good shot. Jamal Crawford can do it four or five times out of 10, but even on a good night those five or six misses are bad misses. Gerald Wallace can back a guy down from the low block, but that’s not quiet the same thing. Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews are both basically spot-up shooters. Raymond Felton is quick but has a shot that is very easy to block.

One guy dribbling around while the other guys stand, especially if that one guy with the ball isn’t going to be able to score on his own, is a very easy offense to defend. Defense has less to do with skill than it does with desire and intensity. Portland was clearly the more skilled team. New Orleans the more driven. New Orleans’ hard and determined defense stonewalled the Blazers’ uninspired offense. At least through two quarters.

And that’s what’s nice about having a team that has more than nine active guys on the roster. Portland had too many weapons. Even when LA wasn’t having a great game, even when Wesley was a non-factor, Nicolas couldn’t make an open shot, and Crash wasn’t really getting the ball, the Blazers still had guys they could go to. Those guys in the second half were Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton. Against a team that doesn’t really have anybody, all you need to be able to win is one guy to step up. Portland hasn’t had guys step up in those situations yet this season. And if there’s any big takeaway from this game it’s that somebody finally did.

That somebody was Crawford. We don’t need to break it down too far, after all it wasn’t a great win and we don’t want to jinx anything, but let’s just say that there was a stretch in the third quarter where we got a chance to see just what it is that Jamal can bring to this team. He’s quick, he’s mostly good with the ball, and above all else he is confident. Outside shots weren’t falling a whole lot early in this game, and Portland was getting next to nothing on the offensive glass. But in the third quarter Crawford took the onus of scoring on himself, and decided he was going to get hot and shoot the lights out. And he did.

In a few of the Blazers’ bad losses this season they’ve gotten down early and had to struggle just to get back in. Those games often ended with Portland losing after having gotten close or tied but never getting a lead, the Houston game that just happened is a good example of that phenomenon. Friday the Blazers got the lead, and when it came down to it, that was the difference maker.

For sure this game can be scrutinized and dissected to figure out all the flaws. There were plenty, too many turnovers, not enough rebounding, not enough clutch shooting, but for the time being I’m going to let it stand. Portland needed a win. They got a win. End of story.

Like I said, end of story. There really isn’t any other reason to break this win down any further, that and all fans of real basketball skipped this one anyway in favor of Jeremy Lin.

Box score

Standings

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Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject

Email me: [email protected]

Feb. 10, 2012; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin (17) reacts during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Madison Square Garden. Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

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