Absolute masterpiece of a tank loss.
That quote comes from the unfairly unconsidered non-future GM of the Portland Trail Blazers. The one and only Ben Golliver of
Blazer Mecca Blazersedge dropped that comedic bomb seconds after referees on the take, upset they didn’t buy a Mega Millions ticket in Maryland, forgot to call a foul on a Wesley Matthews drive to the hoop with a mere two ticks on the clock Friday night in Los Angeles, keeping the Blazers from a big (albeit probably meaningless) win over the Clippers.
Ben’s tweet is a joke, to be sure. Portland didn’t play 47 minutes and 50 seconds of good basketball, then lose on purpose in the last five seconds. But like all of the best jokes out there, it’s the part of truth that makes it so funny.
Yes, I’m disappointed that the Blazers didn’t finish off the Clippers when they had a chance Friday night. And yes, I realize that Portland isn’t dead in the Playoff run just yet, and a win over LA Friday would have been a real kick in the shorts for the final 14 games of 2011-12. But I also know that at this point the odds of the Blazers making the Playoffs are slim verging very closely on none. And I also realize that what’s most important at this moment in time just might not be wins.
And that’s why, after enough time has passed to take the obligatory sting out of a heartbreaking loss, I can say, in all confidence, that Friday night was just what Portland needed.
Here’s why in short: They lost (more ping pong balls), they got a HUGE game from J.J. Hickson (more confidence for him, probably took another big step toward cementing his place with the Blazers for the near future), they got heavy minutes from Jonny Flynn and some minutes from Hasheem Thabeet (NOW EVERYBODY CAN STOP SAYING THEY SHOULD PLAY THABEET), they had an engaged and effective bench (finally), and they did it all without LaMarcus Aldridge (every team needs to learn how to play well without their best player).
So let’s break it down a bit, starting with Hasheem Thabeet. I hate to rag on anybody that’s reached the NBA level. I understand how hard it is to get to the league, and what it means to be one of the best basketball players in the world. But I feel like Thabeet probably doesn’t belong on the NBA court. That’s not a personal dig, from everything I know about Hasheem (which in truth is very little) he seems like a wonderful human being, he just doesn’t look to me like an NBA basketball player.
Friday he picked up four fouls in just under eight minutes. I know that he basically added 25% to his minutes played on the season Friday, and maybe a couple of the fouls could be blamed on fatigue. But he also got two fouls in two minutes during his first shift. To me, that’s a good indication that the game just moves too fast for him. I know playing Thabeet is key to losing games down the stretch, but I think having him out there for long stretches (or starting him, something I have said would be the real indication of giving up on the rest of the season) does more harm than good in terms of the positives that can still come out of this last little run of games. That being said, if he does play upwards of 10 minutes, I doubt he’ll be able to not foul out.
OK, moving on to the Blazer bench. Jamal Crawford, who didn’t have even close to a great game, matched the scoring output of the Clipper bench all by himself. Jonny Flynn and Luke Babbitt were +10 and +15 respectively, and keyed a couple of big runs that really put Portland in this game. Crawford hit an improbable go ahead shot, so he gets a lot of credit for the effectiveness of the Blazers’ reserve unit, but it was Flynn and Babbitt that really impressed.
You can see the carry over from the NOLA game with Luke in the way he shot the ball Friday: effortlessly, with supreme confidence that it was going to drop. Luke was 2-of-4 from deep, which is good. He needs to keep shooting. He needs to get to a place where the confidence in his stroke isn’t contingent on having a big scoring night. He needs to have that confidence after making four in a row and after missing 10 in row. That’s what makes a good shooter a great shooter.
I would have loved to see coach Kaleb Canales draw up a last second play to get Luke open off a couple of screens for a game winner. I understand why he didn’t do it (Luke struggles mightily when he is forced to create his own shot so having him on the floor in late game situations can become a problem if a set play breaks down), but getting a game winner in the Staples Center would have trumped a Chalupa shot any day of the week. And just getting the ball in that situation could have been an important catalyst in Luke’s continued development. Ah well, maybe coach Canales was saving the Luke Babbitt, triple screen, open in the corner, dagger trey for a home game. Imagine how buck wild the Rose Garden will go when that happens. And if it’s for a Chalupa, forget about it.
As for Flynn. I’m pretty sure he won’t be a Blazer next season, but I like to see him play like he’s got something to prove. The adage is true, that if you reach the NBA, you’re going to get a shot to prove you belong. In fact, you’ll get a couple of shots depending on where you were drafted. It’s also true, though, that once you’ve taken your shot (or shots) and fail (or failed over and over and over) you probably won’t get another try. Usually once a player leaves the NBA, they don’t come back. I say usually because a lot of guys left during the lockout who will probably come back. J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler, and Aaron Brooks are the exception. Sergio Rodriquez is the rule.
Right now, Jonny Flynn is playing not just for his next contract, but for his right to continue to call himself an NBA player. A guy in that situation wants to get out on the floor and play well. He isn’t thinking at all about the proposition of tanking. Flynn looked serviceable in 15 minutes Friday, collecting three assists (two on alley oops to J.J. Hickson and Hasheem Thabeet), and five points, while coughing it up only once. Those aren’t starting PG numbers, or probably even back-up PG numbers, but I think Flynn might just have an NBA future. I like the way he pushes the ball, and I like his confidence in his handle. Both are good things for a young point guard to have.
And finally, J.J. Hickson. Thursday night was Luke Babbitt’s breakout night. Friday was J.J.’s. Starting in place of an injured LaMarcus Aldridge, Hickson went ballistic. J.J. finished with 29 points on 13-of-19 shooting. Hickson put together a season’s worth of highlight dunks, and showed that what most talented NBA players need to succeed is nothing more than just the invitation to play.
So far, outsider sentiment has been mixed when it comes to Hickson. A lot of people have said that Sacramento made a mistake in giving him up for nothing, but some seem to think the opposite (like this guy). I tend to think more inline with those that see his potential. I like what he brings to Portland, and as I said following Thursday’s win, putting Hickson and Aldridge together gives the Blazers a very interesting and potent front court. We might not see much of that front court this coming month, though. Smart money says Portland brass thinks long and hard about putting an injured LaMarcus Aldridge in the lineup with very little on the line.
Defensive improvement is going to be important for J.J. going forward (Hickson could only wave at Chris Paul on the Clips’ final possession as CP3 breezed by him for the game winning lay-up, but to be fair that one was like everything else that’s gone wrong this season, Raymond Felton’s fault). As is improvement from the free throw line. I’m sure the big night was bitter sweet for J.J. He was two missed free throws short of tying a career high; two free throws, might I add, that probably would have been game winners.
Here’s another good thing about J.J., in case you need more convincing. Often when a player comes out of nowhere, the more salty, less prone to flights of fancy, among those that write or speak publicly about basketball, laugh and say wait until the scouting reports come in.
Usually they’re right (come on guys JEREMY LIN). Advance scouts get the tapes, they see the guy can’t go left, or shoots 98% from three to eight feet out from the right side of the floor at a 76 degree angle from the rim, and they shut him down. J.J. Hickson does not fit that mold.
I know he was rotting on the bench in Sac this season, and played on the worst team in the league last season. But he played in 62 games with the 08-09 Cavs, a team that went 66-16 and reached the Eastern Conference Finals, and STARTED 73 games for the 09-10 Cavs, winners of 61 games. Dude is a known entity.
Hickson is a restricted free agent following this season. He is going to get some offers. Portland should be careful in what they decide to do with him. He’s worth keeping around. But he might not be worth selling the farm for though. If J.J. keeps putting up numbers the way he has the last few nights, expect somebody to reach out with the dreaded toxic offer. I really really like what Hickson does for the Blazers, I’m just not sure he’s worth giving up a lot of Portland’s precious cap space for.
To wrap up this kind of rambling recap, I’ll say that I agree with Ben with every fiber of my being. All bad feelings I can’t help from having when Portland loses aside, Friday’s loss to the Clippers is the perfect prototype for what the Blazers should be doing for all of April.
Portland’s back in action in another crucial lottery positioning game Sunday against the Timberwolves.
One quick thing:
- Like I said I would, I decided to watch the ESPN broadcast Friday night. I might have to change that policy for the future. For one thing, I know I missed what I’m sure was some pretty top-notch homerism during the J.J. Hickson Highlight Hour and the No Call On Wesley Matthews. But it wasn’t homer announcers this time that made me almost put my foot through the television. For that we have Jon Barry. Because a national audience doesn’t watch Blazer games every day or know everything there is to know about this team (like the locals do), ESPN brought it upon themselves to deconstruct what happened to the franchise this season to turn them from sleeper favorite in January to lottery-bound in March. They started with Brandon Roy. Seeing the montage of failure was bad enough. What followed was emotionally and physically unpleasant to the point that I felt somebody needed a switch kick in the throat. Jon Barry, the brother of my favorite basketball player EVER, went on a run about Brandon, going as far as to say that Minnesota made the right call in trading Brandon on draft day for Randy Foye. Here’s my problem with all that nonsense. Of course it’s not true, for starters. You take Brandon Roy over Randy Foye every day of the week from now until the sun goes supernova and the earth ceases to exist. But since Brandon’s career is over and Foye’s isn’t, it appears to the lay person that Foye is a better long-term pick than Roy. Answer this question Jon Barry, what kind of impact did Randy Foye have on the team that he ended up playing for as a rookie? Sure Foye will play for a decade or more. He might even be a role player on a good team at some point in his career. He may even finish with better numbers than Brandon in some categories. But saying on national TV that Portland messed up by not being vigilant with the knee related red flags that everybody knew existed with Brandon is revisionist history, it’s ignorant, it’s wrong, and it should get you fired. It’s also the type of thing that might make people forget that almost nobody is more responsible for the rebirth of one of the most successful franchises in all of professional sports than Brandon Roy. I would say Portland made the right choice.
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