Some times you see it coming. After the way Portland started the season at home, Phoenix on the road felt like a trap game. It was. A few nights ago I walked into the Rose Garden to see the Blazers take on the Rockets, and had a sneaking suspicion that the Oklahoma City game might still be on everybody’s mind and that Houston might be able to catch Portland unawares. I was right.
This one, I didn’t see coming. At least not until one minute and 55 seconds into the opening quarter when LaMarcus Aldridge was rolling on the Rose Garden floor clutching his ankle and grimacing in pain. It wasn’t the end of the world, the city of Portland was taken of suicide watch when twitter lit up in the middle of the second quarter that LA’s x-rays were negative, but it was the end of Tuesday’s game. Everybody will remember this one because the Blazers got absolutely beat to hell by the Washington Wizards, on the short list of the very worst teams in the league, but it could have been anybody. When the entire Blazer organization helped LaMarcus to his feet and guided him off the floor and into the locker room, those still left to finish the 96% of the game that remained would have lost to the team of middle school girls who warmed up the Valentine’s Day crowd prior to tip-off.
LaMarcus Aldridge is Portland’s best player. He’s been their most consistent scorer all year, he’s been the only guy that has played well in this recent stretch of games that have now included three straight home losses, and he’s the alpha and omega of the Blazers’ offense. When he goes down it makes sense that the team would falter. It does not mean, however, that the team should basically cease to exist. Portland had no offensive rhythm at all. They couldn’t string offensive possessions together. They couldn’t make open shots. They couldn’t make layups. They couldn’t do anything. They only managed to get 109 points because Washington was too busy lighting their nets on fire to care at all about defending.
That’s what really hurt to watch Tuesday. Portland is supposed to be pretty good on defense. Tuesday their total inability to score meaningful baskets was only surpassed by their abject failure at getting meaningful stops. The Blazers got down by ten in the second quarter and it didn’t get closer than six the rest of the way, but there were more than a few times when a couple of stops and a couple of buckets would have put Portland right back in it. They had to know that all they needed to do was get in it to have a decent shot at the W. The Wizards have demonstrated one thing this year, that they can lose. If the Blazers would have gotten the score down to two possessions or maybe even one possession, even as late as the 2:30 mark in the fourth quarter when Portland had cut Washington’s lead to eight, the Wizards very likely would have come unglued.
Washington seemed to know that too. So instead of letting the game get close, especially at the end, they gave the ball to Nick Young, or John Wall, or JaVale McGee, or Jordan Crawford, or Gilbert Arenas, or Javaris Crittenton, or Michale Jordan, or any person that has ever worn a Washington jersey in the history of basketball. Everybody was making shots. Everybody was making every shot. Nick Young’s line was the most ridiculous: 12-of-17 from the floor, 7-of-8 from three, 4-of-4 from the line for 35 points. But Jordan Crawford was on fire (9-of-16 from the field for 21 points) as was John Wall (10-of-14 from the field for 29 points). As a team Washington was a breathtaking 48-of-80 (an even 60%) from the field and 9-of-17 from behind the arc. The Blazers shot a respectable 47%, but when you don’t play any defense your shooting percentage is meaningless.
Post game, coach Nate McMillan talked about playing with pride. The Blazers didn’t have much of that Tuesday. A few guys had their moments, Gerald Wallace in the third and Nicolas Batum most of the way, but for the most part Portland played like they also couldn’t believe they were getting housed in their own building by the Wizards. That’s not a good sign.
I’ve been to a lot of bad Blazer games in my day–I moved here in 2002 right at the beginning of the end for the Jail Blazers and the Playoff Appearance Streak–and Tuesday was easily as bad as any of those nights Portland got blown out by middle of the park clubs. The difference betweenthose nights, especially the times when Portland’s line-up was mostly high schoolers, and Tuesday was the visible displays of effort. There were whole seasons when the Blazers just didn’t have the talent to beat anybody, but they would work their butts off. It didn’t matter–and to be fair it didn’t happen every night, there were lackluster efforts to be sure during the 21-win campaign of 05-06–but they still did it. Tuesday, Portland did not play hard, they did not work, they did not try to rise above the injury to their star. This team is too good to play this poorly. They have too many top-level talents to not even try.
Personally, I prefer positive reinforcement over shaming somebody into getting better. I’m willing to change my stance on the issue for right now though. These Blazers should be embarrassed (well probably everybody except Nicolas Batum who tied his career-high with 33 points in his second start of the year), and maybe that embarrassment will make them play better. Right now it seems like as good a motivational tactic as any.
Half of the season is almost over. That means two things to me. There’s still time left to get back to where this team was at the beginning of January. But there’s significantly less time left before we all start panicking and preparing for the draft lottery. The Blazers have a choice to make. Do they want to look at losing to Washington at home by 15 as the low-point and make the commitment to play hard every night and get better, or do they want to pack it in right now, admit that they don’t care that much, and get ready to hit the free agent market. The choice is theirs. Washington won this game, I’m not trying to say that they didn’t, but Portland gave them a huge advantage when they decided not to play without LaMarcus.
Instead of closing this with a couple or random notes/observations, I think, in an effort to remind Blazer fans why we like the NBA as much as we do, I’ll just put a couple of links up to stuff that has been written lately about Jeremy Lin. At least somewhere in basketball-land there are fans who are excited about their team.
- Howard Beck gamer for the New York Times
- Tim Keown ESPN on Lin’s high school coach
- Robert Wright from the Atlantic Monthly (that’s right the Atlantic Monthly) on the secret of Lin’s success
- From the Washington Post on trademarking “Linsanity“
- Rick Reilly jumping on it
- Bruce Arthur waxing poetic and using the Queen’s English from, and I’m not kidding, Canada.com
- Beckly Mason from HoopSpeak with a first hand account of Lin (not his first hand account but a first hand account)
Ron ArtestMetta World Peace, Shane Battier, Chris Palmer, Frank Isola, and Shaq
- The latest video (via Blazersedge)
- And finally Danny Chau if you haven’t already read it
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