Let me apologize for a couple things before I get to this recap. First, sorry it took me so long to get to it. I’ve been busy this week, I expected Portland to not even compete with the Bulls, and to be perfectly honest I was damn near Blazered out following Thursday’s events.
Second. I apologize for not writing my trade deadline/Nate firing reaction yet, especially now since an improbably and highly motivating win over the best team in the NBA has apparently erased a month of lackluster, uninspiring play. Don’t worry. I’ll get to it still. There are a lot of things I have to say about Nate McMillan (Marcus Camby, Gerald Wallace, and Greg Oden too), and once this NCAA Tournament thing goes on hiatus for a week I’ll have plenty of time to put it all together in my head and get it out there.
But until then, on to one of the best Blazer related experiences I’ve had in quite some time. And I only caught the very last little bit of it. Because of that, I can’t really comment on the individual play or breakdowns or anything like that. What I can comment on is the overall importance of a win like Friday’s.
Post game a nearly ecstatic Mike Rice couldn’t help blathering on and on about the Playoffs. I appreciate the sentiment. Nobody in the organization wants the Blazers to turn into a lottery doormat (don’t worry it won’t happen), so it makes sense that following an enormous win the thoughts would turn automatically to the idea that this team is somehow still a contender. I get it that Portland’s not mathematically eliminated just yet, and although making a late post season run is that antithesis to tanking, it won’t really hurt the Blazer’s rebuilding next season if they somehow miss the lottery, but that’s not why I don’t really want to hear about the Playoffs right now.
Let’s stop talking about the Playoffs for awhile so we can actually talk about what beating the Bulls in Chicago at this point in the season, at this point in the development of this franchise, means in and of itself. It means that this group of Blazers, the one’s who are left, are tired of being embarrassed. They’re tired of getting annihilated on the basketball court. And they’re tired of hearing about how they don’t care anymore. They do care. They cared enough to beat the best team in the league. And even if this kind of fluky thing happens basically like clockwork in the NBA, it’s still worth noting and celebrating.
The Blazers could have gotten walloped by the Bulls and nobody would have batted an eyelash. They could have held their ground and lost in the fourth and we all would have celebrated. By winning, they just might have given this season a bit of new life. And they’ve definitely showed that the rebuilding process might be quick and basically more or less painless. Maybe, just maybe those salary dump trades did more than just free up space and bring in some high level draft picks. Maybe they unburdened this team just enough to get them back to playing free, open, and winning basketball.
Sunday will be another big test. It’s likely that the Oklahoma City game will be what the Chicago game wasn’t, a now less-talented Portland team getting schooled up and down by much much better club, but there’s a chance that the Blazers might have given themselves the confidence and motivation to disprove the popular notion that along with shipping McMillan and saying goodbye to Camby and Wallace, they’ve cut bait on this season.
After Sunday, Portland has a total of eight road games and 12 home games. Right now, they’re three games out of the eighth and final Western Conference Playoff spot. There is plenty of time left to make up those three games, but right now the Blazers have to take it one game at a time. If they can get another improbable win on Sunday, then maybe we can start talking about a potential Playoff run.
Either way. It’s nice to get to talk about a win. And it’s nice to see that there’s life in this team after all.
Here’s the one thing I’ll say about the actual game:
- In the few minutes that I actually watched, I could tell that Portland was playing a little more open on offense. I think part of that might have to do with the subtraction of Gerald Wallace from the offense. I really love Crash’s game, but his offense with the Blazers, especially recently, hasn’t been super effective. Removing him from the equation eliminates one of Portland’s most consistent ball-stoppers. Without him, the ball moved around the perimeter more, and importantly ended up in the willing and able hands of Nicolas Batum in places where he could shoot or drive. The continued development of Nicolas will make or break Portland’s rebuild effort. Letting him know early on in this process that he’s as important offensively as LaMarcus Aldridge should ensure that he’s a make, not a break.
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