Saturday I sat near the back of the room where coach Nate McMillan delivers his post game remarks to the media, right next to The Oregonian‘s Jason Quick. After I sat down, Jason turned to me and asked a serious question: Can it get any worse? A serious question, and a good question. And here’s the scary answer, yes, it can get worse. And it probably will get worse, so get ready for it.
I choose personally to err on the side of optimism–feeling generous I projected that the Blazers will get 10 wins in March, if that’s not being blindly optimistic I don’t know what is–but I’m not sure how much even I have left in the tank. Saturday night, Portland got beaten, handily, by a Minnesota Timberwolves team that looked as poised, committed, and fluid as the Blazer looked lazy, sloppy, and almost completely out of sync. I would love to be able to say that Portland let this one get away, that an inferior team came into the Rose Garden and stole a victory. Saturday the best team won. And that team was not the Blazers.
And that’s why it can get worse. There are still 29 games left in this season, seven straight on the road following Monday’s match-up with the worst team in the Western Conference, and Portland is going to have to play them all. If they can’t figure out what is wrong and fix it soon, and by soon I mean yesterday, this team isn’t going to be winning very many of those games.
Saturday’s loss reminded me of something that I think I’ve talked about before. That is that in the NBA the skill level of every team is so high that winning doesn’t come down to who has the better team or the better players. Every roster in the league is full of the best basketball players on the planet. Winning, and doing it consistently, is about being prepared mentally, being focused, having confidence, and most importantly having your head in the game from the first buzzer to the last. The best players in the league don’t take a single play off all season. (Side Bar: Some guys like Mike Beasley, who in my opinion is the second best player on Minnesota’s roster, take whole games off, and that’s what keeps them from getting to the next level in their careers.) The best teams believe they can win every night.
If you watched closely Saturday, you saw one team that was in it from the tip. That would have been the T-Wolves. And one team that was half committed at the start of the game, fully committed in a very impressive second quarter, and living with their head in the clouds in the fourth quarter. It doesn’t matter who your opponent is, that kind of play doesn’t win games.
I don’t really have much else to say, beyond that. As fans, we now get to play the waiting game. Does this team find its way in the next two to three days, get some momentum going on the road, grab a W in a big East Coast city (Boston maybe, and/or New York), and actually start playing like the roster implies it should? Or do they lose on Monday night to the 9-28 New Orleans Hornets and start cleaning house? Of course I prefer the scenario in which the Blazers start playing well, win games, and don’t gut the team. But at least a player fire sale will give us something to talk about.
I have to say, though, it’s probably pretty fun to be a Minnesota Timberwolves fan. Ricky Rubio isn’t amazing, but he’s a solid PG and if he should ever develop a jump shot he might be an All-Star PG. Kevin Love is Kevin Love (sorry I can’t gild the lily any more than that), and Saturday he out-played LaMarcus Aldridge in almost every way one player can out-play another (LA won fouls 6-2 BOOYAH). Nikola Pekovic is a load, and played good defense on LA for stretches. Martell Webster looks like and has the same name as a guy that used to play in Portland but is clearly not the same dude (by that I mean he had a great game, something we didn’t seem from him very often). Rick Adelman might be a top 10 of all time head coach, who always gets geared up for playing his old team. The Wolves have a legit shot at the Playoffs this year, and if they can keep it together their ceiling is top four, not this year, but soon. Wasn’t so long ago people were saying the same thing about the Blazers.
We’re back at it Monday. Rest up. You’re going to need it.
Couple of quick things:
- Portland’s perimeter defense was as bad as it’s been all season. Minnesota went nova from three in the first quarter, hitting eight of ten. In that same quarter, the Blazers went 8-of-10 from the line. Matching threes with free throws is a losing strategy.
- We have reached the point in the season where we all get to throw out what we think Portland should do RE: trades/rebuilding. Here’s my offering. The Blazers are looking at a slew of guys that will be URFAs (Un Restricted Free Agents) in the off-season. Teams are going to come for Gerald Wallace and Jamal Crawford. Crash is a no-brainer, a top six or seven team because a top four by signing him (imagine if you can stomach it Gerald Wallace finishing this season in Oklahoma City). Crawford is a harder sell, for sure, but there are still a lot of teams that see his Sixth Man of the Year Award and his ability to provide instant offense off the bench, and wouldn’t mind having him (think Chicago, a top two team in the East with a bench unit that plays just to not lose leads while Derrick Rose catches his breath). So, here’s my suggestion. Do nothing. Unplug the phones. Send out a league-wide memo that says the Portland Trail Blazers will hear no trade offers, not even if the Lakers are offering Kobe straight up for Luke Babbitt, OK I’d take that one. Play this string out. Let all the Un-Restricted guys walk, take the cap space, make some trades, and rush the Draft. Here’s why. You put together a package to make a trade, it goes through, and now you’re left with another piece to integrate and probably about 20 games to do it. Portland is at loose ends now because they tried to put together a team on the fly to make-up for the face of the franchise hanging up his Jordans. A trade is probably not what makes this team better, and it’s probably not the best way to rebuild, if rebuilding is in fact what the Blazers are going to do. In my book, it’s a win-win. You let these guys try to dig their way out of the hole they got themselves into, and if they do, awesome. If they don’t well, the last time Portland wheeled and dealt on draft day they ended up with a ROY (Rookie of the Year) and four All-Star Game appearances. And this time they don’t need to draft a LaMarcus Aldridge. They’ve already got one. Also, just to make it a win-win-win, by not trading Gerald Wallace or Jamal Crawford or anybody, Portland doesn’t get to be the team that gave up the guy that took another team from almost there to all the way there…again. Does the name Rasheed Wallace mean anything to you?
Email me: [email protected]