Just over a week ago Portland lost to the Dallas Mavericks at home, starting what is now a five-game skid to the finish line. Following that game, coach Kaleb Canales balked hard at the notion that coming from 20 down to lose by three to the defending NBA champs could be considered a moral victory, even after saying his team put forth a “winning effort” (his words).
Has enough changed in nine days to say that losing to Memphis on the road by four (a close four too not the get down huge let the other team sub in their bench then come back to close the gap kind of four point game) can be considered a moral victory? Are we at the point now, with two games left that will probably be losses to end the season losing seven in a row and nine of the last 10, that we can consider even talking about moral victories?
My answer is yes. Let’s talk about moral victories. Here’s why: First, we’ve seen or last real victory of 2011-12, and second back when coach Canales said a winning effort in a loss wasn’t a moral victory, the Blazers had yet to be eliminated from the post season. Back then the party line was making the Playoffs, even if everybody knew that was an impossibility. Now, there’s no party line. Maybe it should be: every loss is a moral victory. That way we can feel positive about what’s been a mostly negative close to the season.
So here are my moral victory notes for Saturday’s loss in Memphis.
Let’s start with J.J. Hickson. J.J.’s performance has been the saving grace of the final run of 2011-12, more so even than the play of Luke Babbitt. Hickson is making an effort for next season. Whether or not that next season will be in Portland remains to be see, but his time in a Blazer jersey has been quite effective. Saturday, Hickson collected a 23-13 double-double (points-rebounds) and shot 9-of-16 from the field.
I was talking to a friend yesterday about the possibility of Hickson being a Blazer in the future. My contention is that a starting front line of Hickson and Aldridge, though small, would be pretty effective. My friend disagreed, saying the Blazers would be better suited having Hickson come off the bench. I’m not sure if that’s what J.J. wants, or if being a starter or a bench player will influence his off season decision, but I like Hickson as a starter mostly because that would mean Portland won’t have to add a starting center in the off season.
The Blazers have a couple of options when it comes to building next season’s front line. My hope is that they go the route of working with what they already have instead of spending Deron Williams money on Roy Hibbert. My real hope is that they decide against drafting a center, ever again. Having Hickson on board for next season gives the Blazers the little bit of extra breathing room that might help Portland to some real victories in 2012-13.
One more moral victory Saturday, which may however not lead to real victories in the future, was the improvement of Nolan Smith, specifically in the category of assists. During the home finale, Nolan played almost 40 minutes without an assist. In 35 minutes Saturday, Nolan picked up six assists.
Following the 40-minute zero assist performance, Nolan took a little heat for not setting up his teammates a little more effectively. Six assists doesn’t make for a future All-Star Game appearance, but if Nolan wants to continue to get minutes during the 12-13 rebuilding/Playoff effort he’ll have to show consistent improvement from one game to the next. Going from a goose egg one night to six dimes the next shows that Nolan just might have some growth potential.
I know that a good game from J.J. Hickson and a slight improvement from Nolan Smith (Nolan still struggled from the field shooting 2-of-8 and 0-of-2 from deep) doesn’t make for headline news, but we’ve gone beyond the need to make headlines a long time ago. Portland has two games left and nothing to play for. I feel like that fact alone makes it OK to ignore everything negative and focus on the one or two things that can be given somewhat of a positive spin.
The Blazers travel to San Antonio Monday. The Spurs have a half-game lead on the Thunder for the number-one seed in the West. They’ll tell you, if you have the chance to ask, that they don’t care about being the West’s top seed.
San Antonio lost to the Grizz in the first round last year as the West’s number-one seed, so there might be some truth to that claim, you know not wanting history to repeat itself and stuff. However, no teams play to lose. Coach Pop might sit his starters, because that’s kind of his steez, but that just means Patty Mills will have the chance to go for 40 against his old team. That should be fun for Blazer fans.
One quick thing:
- Jamal Crawford had a good game Saturday (21 points, 5-of-13, 2-of-6 from three, and 9-of-10 from the free throw line). I don’t count that as among the moral victories. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to explain why.
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