The last time I was in the Rose Garden for a Fan Appreciation Night when it wasn’t the final home game of the season, when the Blazers weren’t bound for the Playoffs, was the last home game of the 2007-08 season.
That night, April 15th 2008 to be exact, Portland put together a show that included not one but two half court alley oop lobs from Sergio Rodriquez to Travis Outlaw along with a mighty fine beating of the Memphis Grizzlies 113-91.
The Blazers would follow their last home victory with their last home loss, and finish a mildly disappointing 41-41, but that night the Rose Garden was on fire. There was a palpable sense that that 41-41 team was going to be something special. They were. Basically that same squad (the starting lineup game two of 08-09, Portland’s first home game, would differ by only two players from game 81 of 07-08) went on to win 54 games.
Lets shelve the comparisons to Memphis for now (and forever). I know they were a bad team in 08 that is a great team, nay a sleeper favorite, now. Management, injuries, players that proved out better than expected, blah, blah, blah. I don’t want to talk about the Grizzlies.
I will say this though, in terms of comparison, Wednesday night, April 18th 2012, the final home game of this lockout shortened “woe-betide us all” of a season, was about as opposite as you could get from that April night way back in 2008 and still be playing the same sport in the same city under the guise of the same team.
Then, we watched a group of young players who had broken off an UNBELIEVABLE 13-game winning streak early in the season but stumbled in the second half blow off some steam against an inferior opponent knowing that those stumbles wouldn’t always be there. We watched with eager anticipation hoping that the off season would be short.
Wednesday night, we once again watched a group of young players, but this time the were over matched, out gunned, and out played in every way one team can be out played by another. Again we wait eagerly for next season, hoping the off season will be short (and productive), but this time much, if not all, of the anticipation of some future greatness is gone.
Post game Nicolas Batum said he’d never missed the Playoffs, not once in his entire professional career. I asked him if he knew that the Blazers once made the post season 21 seasons in a row (I said 23 but who cares about numbers really). He said he did. I asked him if not being part of the previous rebuilding effort (Nic joined the team in 08-09 and played a minor but important role in at least a few of those 54 wins) gave him more motivation to be back in the top half of the conference next season, seeing as he probably didn’t want to get comfortable losing a lot of games and falling into the ever dangerous “losing mindset.” He said yes, adding that his focus is going to be on re-starting that consecutive Playoff appearances streak.
You applaud the man’s candor and his positive attitude, but you have to wonder if maybe he’s a bit deluded. Right now Portland’s contracted roster includes Nolan Smith, Elliot Williams, Kurt Thomas, Luke Babbitt, Wesley Matthews, and LaMarcus Aldridge. Nolan, Elliot, and Luke are all on their rookie deals, Kurt Thomas isn’t getting any younger. LA’s here to stay.
Wesley, as always, is a bit of a wild card. He’s getting starter money, but not putting up amazing stats. He’ll be in the gym all summer, that I can guarantee, and there’s a half-way decent chance he reports to training camp in the best shape of his life shooting the ball better than half the guys in the league. There’s also a chance that his rookie season in Utah was the outlier, not his sub-par season in 2011-12.
That takes care of the contracted guys. As for the non-contracted guys. Shawne Williams has a player option that he claims he’ll pick up, but he could still be bought out. Jamal Crawford has the all important player option that I seriously doubt he’ll pick up. Raymond Felton has a team option (although not according to storytellerscontracts.com, however they do say he was signed for two years with one guaranteed) which it seems unlikely Portland will take but that’s certainly not a sure thing. Everybody else has nothing.
The Blazers’ first order of business will be to come to terms with Nicolas Batum, once that is taken care of they’ll take a long hard look at what they’ve got left and make some very tough decisions.
Wednesday night was another chance to get those guys that management wants to see out on the court. Unfortunately it was against a highly motivated Utah squad that has now jumped both the Rockets and the Suns and is in sole possession of a first round date with the
San Antonio Spurs Oklahoma City Thunder San Antonio Spurs. Nobody in a Blazer uniform looked good.
There’s no reason to pick on any one guy when everybody was as bad as they were. I will say this, though, J.J. Hickson has the best shot at being an impact player on this team next season of the guys that saw major minutes Wednesday night, and he better figure out how to play out of a double team.
As the sole scoring option (which he might be should he come off the bench next year if he’s a Blazer) he was pretty ineffective. Of course he won’t always be front court mates with Hasheem Thabeet, but Thabeet played only 17 minutes as a starter Wednesday, so there was plenty of time when J.J. was on the floor and Hasheem was on the bench. In 39 minutes, J.J. shot 4-of-11 from the field, and way too many times was looking for jump shots instead of trying to score at the rim.
To be effective, Hickson needs to have a high shooting percentage. To do that, he needs to be the low in a high/low set-up. That’s easy for him when he’s playing with LA, but it was hard for him Wednesday.
As for the future back court of the Blazers, management might start looking in the draft pool for a point guard who can play immediately. Jonny Flynn did his best Raymond Felton impersonation, throwing the ball away a lot more than his two official turnovers would suggest and shooting far too many bad shots. Nolan Smith got the start, and in nearly 40 minutes didn’t record a single assist.
Post game, coach Kaleb Canales said Smith’s lack of assists had more to do with the team’s awful (my word not his) shooting percentage, 39% for the game, and less to do with Nolan not playing his position correctly.
Chalk that up to Canales not wanting to throw his PGOTF (point guard of the future for the initialism challenged) under the bus if you want, but it might be true. My problem with Nolan isn’t that he wasn’t getting assists. My problem is that he missed way too many wide open shots.
In the NBA, unless you are seven feet tall or over, you have to be a shooter. Maybe Nolan will figure out how to run the point and show improvement in his assist numbers, but if he can’t knock down an uncontested 17-footer, he’ll never have a real effect on a game. Nolan’s line Wednesday night: 7-of-16 from the field, 1-of-5 from three. Not confidence inspiring.
The hero of Portland’s tank-fest, Luke Babbitt, fared little better than his comrades in arms. Luke (who has now been gifted with a “funny the first time but not the second” Jumbotron Luke Skywalker animation) played 35 minutes and shot 6-of-17 from the field and 2-of-7 from deep. Do the math on that one. Luke took 10 field goal attempts that were not threes. THAT IS TOO MANY.
I’ve read the thing. I know that Luke was a superstar in high school and college and that his goal is to be a complete player and stuff like that. First: I often tell people that NBA players (all NBA players from the best in the league to the worst in the league) were the best player on the court for either team in every game they ever played until the first time they stepped onto an NBA court, so I’m not surprised at all the Luke was a great player before he was a pine jockey in Portland. Second: Luke is a shooter and he should play like a shooter.
In the off season, Luke should watch videos of Kyle Korver. That guy never ever thinks before he lets it fly. Every time Luke pump fakes at the three-point line when he has an open look I want to scream at him. Maybe he should wear a shock collar that hits him with a couple hundred volts of electricity when he does that. If that happened he would drop the pump fake habit in no time.
Portland now has three games left, and they’re going to have to play them all. Memphis and San Antonio are in the post season for sure, but are jockeying for position. The Memphis game comes first, so there’s a chance the Spurs won’t have much to play for when that game rolls around a few days later. There’s almost no way the Jazz game to close the season won’t have Playoff implications.
I’ll be watching those games, but don’t feel obligated. For most Blazer fans, Portland’s season ended a month ago, but is officially over after tonight.
Couple of quick things:
- Post game every Blazer had great things to say about the fans. It was Fan Appreciation Night after all.
- I’d like to take an opportunity to say thanks to all the folks I’ve worked with and tweeted with this season, there’s really too many people to name, but you all know who you are. Thanks!
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