I waited a while to write this recap of Saturday’s well deserved, if not quite awe inspiring, Blazers victory over the Washington Wizards primarily because I needed to take some time before I committed to what I wanted to say.
So, after letting a little time pass, after watching a little NBATV, and looking at the standings and the upcoming schedule, this is what I’ve decided. It’s not quite over for Portland. I’ve also decided that choosing to believe that the Blazers still have a chance to make something out of this season is going to make it that much more difficult the next time Portland looks uninterested, can’t hit a jumper, and can’t play a lick of defense. So be it. There are games left to be played. And if they have to be played, why not continue to expect the best out of the Blazers.
Saturday wasn’t the best of the Blazers, but it was good enough to beat a bad team, and that has to be worth something to these guys. Last season Portland went through a dark spell. And that dark spell hit it’s deepest level with a loss in the nation’s capital to a team that at the time had won only five games. That loss dropped the Blazers to three games under .500, as bad as it would get for the season, and made me really think the brass was going to pink-slip coach Nate McMillan and start all over again from scratch.
A loss Saturday would have pushed Portland again to three games under .500, and with fewer games remaining now than there were on December 3rd, 2010, probably would have been death knell of the season. Beating the Wizards doesn’t mean the season won’t be deep-sixed on Tuesday in Indianapolis. But it doesn’t NOT mean that either. Sorry for the triple negative there. What I’m trying to say, is a win at any time during this pretty abysmal stretch of basketball should be cause, at least on some level, for even the slightest bit of hope.
Here’s my thinking on this. Mike Barrett and Mike Rice made a rather astute observation mid-way through the first half of Saturday’s game when they said that Portland seemed to start this slide/tail spin following the home loss in overtime to the Oklahoma City Thunder that can be credited in a large part to a blown goal-tending call. The Blazers had problems before that point (not being able to win on the road), but that game stung, and Portland didn’t recover from it right away.
That’s the thing with this season. There is no recovery time. One or two bad games can turn into a bad week, which can turn into a bad month, and then you end up where the Blazers are right now. The reverse is true too, though. A good game, or preferably two or three or four, can turn into a run of wins, which can change a team’s whole landscape. Do I think winning in Washington is the spark Portland needs to go on a run and make up the ground they’ve lost over the last week and then some? No. But there’s no reason why the Blazers shouldn’t come away from Saturday night with a little regained confidence.
As has been noted, Washington is a bad team, and they didn’t play particularly well Saturday–a notable stat: 16-of-25 from the free throw line–but Portland still had to play the whole game. The Wizards didn’t just give it to them. But more than that, the Blazers did seem to make a couple of adjustments that indicated at least some level of game planning and execution.
For instance, on Valentine’s Day in Portland Nick Young destroyed the Blazers from three (7-of-8 from deep finishing with a game-high 35 points). Saturday Young was 1-of-6 from downtown and 4-of-16 from the field for 10 points. Of course Nick Young is a shooter in the mold of former Washington Wizard Gilbert Arenas, he’ll shoot from anywhere at any time, but it did look like the Blazers were making a concerted effort to close him out in the half-court and find him early in transition. That’s an indication that Portland knew what they were supposed to be doing on the defensive end. Knowing what is to be done on defense sounds pretty elemental to being successful on the basketball court, but lately Portland has played like they don’t have a clue about how to effectively defend in any capacity. Saturday’s defense was a step in the right direction.
Offensively, too, the Blazers looked better on Saturday than they have in a while. The ball was getting inside to LaMarcus Aldridge (fantastically efficient line from LA: 12-of-15 from the field 6-of-6 from the line, 10 rebounds, three assists, two blocks, a steal, and a game-high +12). When the ball wasn’t getting inside to LA, Portland’s guards avoided playing one-on-one and chucking jumpers at the rim. The ball was actually moving. Jump shots were actually open. The Blazers shot a more than decent 51% from the field, and if they’d been able to knock down a couple of threes (4-of-17 from deep as a team), this would have been a legit blowout.
And even without a legit blowout, Portland should feel good. Wins make it all better. A couple more wins, and maybe everybody will forget that in early March the season was deemed over and done with.
The Blazers travel to Indy for game four of this trip. The Pacers dropped a heart-breaker in Miami, Saturday evening. Indianapolis is half-way through the Miami/Orlando back-to-back Portland avoided thanks to the lockout. The Pacers are a tough team. Hopefully they have their get-well game against the Magic, and totally forget about having to play Portland while they prepare for the second night of Portland/Philly home b2b.
Couple of quick things:
- Marcus Camby got tossed in the second quarter after catching a forearm to the throat from Kevin Seraphin led to a brief, non-violent shoving match and war of words. Seraphin received a technical on the play, and following the referees announcement Mike Rice broke Kayfabe when he took off his headset to talk directly to Nate McMillan. Also, Mike Barrett showed an impressive ability to self-sensor when he avoided dropping an f-bomb in the middle of letting out an exasperated “you’ve got to be kidding me.” It was a poor choice by the referees to toss Cam and not Seraphin. Just adds to the growing suspicion that Scott Foster either hates the Blazers or bets against them and doesn’t like to lose. Either way. The Camby ejection could have derailed this game, and thankfully it didn’t
- One more thing about the Seraphin situation. Kevin Seraphin is one of the bright stars of French basketball. I hope that when Nick Batum corralled his international teammate to keep him from getting into fisticuffs with Marcus Camby he said something to him in French along the lines of “dude, that old guy will mess up your face.”
- I’m not ready to get back to watching the standings, since the Blazers still face an upward battle to get back into the top eight. However, the Minnesota Timberwolves were dealt a serious blow when it was announced that Ricky Rubio had indeed torn his ACL and that his season was kaptunik. Not that anyone would ever wish an ACL tear on any other person ever, but what’s bad for the T-Wolves is good for the Blazers (that’s the nature of the beast ladies and gentlemen). Minnesota fell to the Hornets at home in their first game post Ricky. Minnesota was 3-7 before Rubio was inserted into the starting lineup.
- Two other teams to watch as far as potentially falling out of the top eight so Portland can jump back in are Houston and Dallas. Before beating the Nets Saturday, the Rockets had lost five straight. Dallas is all kinds of messed up.
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