Well, what is there to say really? Miami is the best team in the league. Portland is not.
I said the Blazers would probably have to play their very best basketball of the season just to compete with the Heat. After watching Miami play on Thursday, I think even the Blazers’ very best would not have been good enough. And this was not Portland anywhere near their very best.
My primary concern with the Blazers following their loss in Denver was that they didn’t get involved early. Thursday Portland got involved early, but early was the only time they were in this game at all. At the 7:41 mark in the first quarter, LaMarcus Aldridge hit a jumper that put Portland ahead 14-6. With 4:20 remaining in that same quarter, LeBron James tied the score at 18, and less than a minute later Udonis Haslem gave Miami a 20-19 lead. So, the Heat’s first lead, and basically the games only lead change (Portland tied the score at 21) happened less than 10 minutes into a 48 minute game.
I love the hustle and the attempt to engage early by Portland in this game, but 9 minutes and 19 seconds of hard, focused basketball is not enough. The Blazers let the Heat rip off an 11-3 run to close the first quarter, and it was mostly academic the rest of the way.
I didn’t believe in Miami last year. I picked them to lose in the Finals (if you don’t believe me here’s the proof that I called the Finals dead to rights) because I didn’t think a three-man team could win a seven-game series against a team that was playing the way Dallas was playing. I’ll be honest, though, I picked Miami to lose because I didn’t like what they were about. I didn’t like The Decision, I thought LeBron James and Chris Bosh fronting like they were the engine that drove the NBA, and not the dudes that pay their salaries, wasn’t good for the labor situation that was already starting to brew in the off-season last season. And I also picked against Miami because I picked against Dallas in their first round match-up with Portland, and again in their Conference Semifinals series with the Lakers, and again in the Conference Finals match-up with Oklahoma City. I wanted Dallas to lose, and since I’d picked them to lose three times and they’d won three times, it made sense to me that all I needed to do to get them to actually lose was to pick them to win. Whatever, I’ll still tell people that I picked Dallas in six.
That’s a lot of lead-up to this bold statement: Miami will probably be NBA Champions in 2011-12. At least all us LeBron haters will be able to put a big freaking asterisk next to his first title, since it came in the lock-out shortened fake season in which Portland didn’t even make the Playoffs. That will holds us over until he gets that second ring in 2012-13. But he won’t get that seventh, not if Greg Oden has anything to say about it. Although knowing Portland’s luck GO will come back as a member of LeBron’s Heat and lead that team to an unprecedented 30-straight titles after which David Stern will rename the NBA LeBron’s League.
Sorry, I’m getting off topic just a bit. Miami is a Championship caliber team this year–they were last year too they just couldn’t get it done in crunch time–and a lot of credit goes to the way they play defense. Thursday the Blazers couldn’t get anything after the opening eight minutes or so. And why was that? Because in the opening minutes LaMarcus was getting good looks and converting them. So what did Miami do? They sent hard doubles (and triples and quadruples and quintuples) and dared, practically begged, one of Portland’s perimeter players to beat them with jump shots.
Forget, for a minute, Miami’s crazy up and down game (the only reason a game in Portland will lead SportsCenter ever is the other team), or how they picked apart the Blazers in the half court, or how good they played passing lanes. The Heat won this game because they adjusted their defense on Portland’s best player, and the rest of the Blazers couldn’t adjust their offense even a fraction. This team is locked into LaMarcus, as it should be, but when he sees the double teams we all know are coming, his teammates have to find a way to get it done. That doesn’t mean shooting more. It means getting better shots, moving the ball around the perimeter, and attacking with purpose.
What do I mean attacking with purpose? Well if you watched closely Thursday night you would have seen plenty of Portland players driving to the hoop in various states of out-of-control and getting called for a lot of charges or getting stripped or getting block at the rim. Attacking with purpose means getting to the rim and scoring or getting fouled. Not Portland’s strong suit of late.
March is going to be a big month for the Blazers (I wrote a preview of the month that will be up in the morning), and more than anything that means Portland will have to get over tough losses like this one. There’s always another game. And that’s only true until the next game isn’t until after summer break.
The Blazers have a chance to avoid falling any further in the standings when they take on the 18-19 Minnesota Timberwolves at the Rose Garden Saturday night.
Just a few quick things:
- I really can’t stand listening to Reggie Miller call a game on TNT. It adds insult to injury that the last two times Portland played on TNT Reggie got the call, and that both times the Blazers have not represented themselves very well.
- Thursday’s broadcast included the obligatory Brandon Roy’s gone Greg Oden’s gone what happened to the Blazers gut punch. Can’t say I’m going to miss that when in 20 years nobody’s talking about it anymore.
- Minutes Watch: 19:01 for Joel Przybilla. It’s like he never left.
- Standings Watch: Portland’s 11 games out of first, one game out of 8th, and two and a half games out of third to last in the conference.