I got cable about three seasons ago. It’s a great move when you think having a job with a “salary” means you’re rich. It’s not so great when you realize that you are in fact not rich and can barely afford your monthly bills, since like any good narcotic once you get a taste of cable television it’s almost impossible to kick it.
Stuck in the depths of my cable television addiction, I have access to one of the true luxuries of the Digital Ag: DVR. I tend to DVR most Blazer road games, watching them after they are live, fast forwarding through commercials and halftime, and sometimes garbage time.
Friday was one of those nights where I had something pressing to take care of after work, and I didn’t get a chance to watch Portland’s match up with Oklahoma City until hours after it had concluded. The hardest part of watching games via DVR is avoiding the Internet or television altogether so you can come at the game without knowing the outcome.
I knew Friday would be a tough order for the Blazers. Oklahoma City is the reigning Western Conference champions. They lost their first game following departure of James Harden to the Houston Rockets. And like the Lakers, their facing some questions about whether or not their roster make-up is still good enough to put them back in the mix for the NBA Championship. That combination of elements, mixed with the fact that Friday was their home opener, made it an important game to win for the Thunder.
Portland looked great in their home opener, but like every game this season, the Blazers’ margin for error coming into Friday was very thin. Every Blazer was going to have to play as well or better than they played Wednesday to have a chance. Sadly it wasn’t to be. Portland played well, well enough at times to win, but they weren’t able to put together the kind of complete game they needed to get a victory in Oklahoma City.
The truth is, though, there were plenty of things that happened Friday that we should feel positive about. The Blazers played a decent to good game, and when things weren’t breaking their way they didn’t let up on the intensity. One of the things we saw last season as things started to go south was players basically giving up. It’s understandable when you have a roster full of mid-level name players who showed up in Portland hoping for a chance at the Playoffs that those same guys will pack it in when the victories stop coming. But with a young team, not expected to get very far this season, giving up is not an option.
Beyond just seeing a lot of hustle, I can point to a couple of other positive takeaways from a game that let’s be honest nobody expected Portland to win. First and foremost, Damian Lillard followed up his opening night gem with a 21-point seven assist evening against one of the most athletic point guards ever. He also did it with only two turnovers, an indication that he cares about improving on his weaknesses. My only critique of Damian’s game Friday is that at times I think he was being too unselfish. head coach Terry Stotts has made a point of having rotations that aren’t all bench players, meaning that Lillard gets minutes with Portland’s second unit against their opponent’s second unit. In those situations he needs to attack more and look to be the primary scorer. He’s fearless, and he can hit his jumper from anywhere. If Damian can figure out the perfect balance between leading the offense with points against second units and working his two-man game when LaMarcus Aldridge is in, we’ll see his 20 points a night jump to around 25 or more.
The other major positive from Friday was Luke Babbitt. That’s right, Luke Babbitt. The same dude who racked up the DNP-CDs in the preseason, who had his option passed on, and who at this point might have just played himself out of the NBA. Friday he came on in the second half, hit a three right off the bench, and showed exactly what a “stretch four” looks like. Every time Luke touches the ball I yell at him to shoot it. Friday he shoot it a couple of times, and the times he didn’t shoot it, he should have shot. When Luke gets minutes, and if he plays like he did Friday every time he’s in the game he’ll get minutes, he needs to put up a lot of shots.
Friday exposed, or more like confirmed, that Portland’s lack of a scoring option off the bench is going to be a problem. Not because the Blazer bench struggled. Friday, they played just fine. The problem was that Nicolas Batum had a bad night, and there wasn’t a bench or rotation player to pick up the slack. Sasha Pavlovic was the spark off the bench Wednesday. Luke was the spark Friday. Between the two of them in those two games, they didn’t score 20 points. If Nicolas Batum only hits one shot all night, eight points from Luke Babbitt isn’t going to be enough to beat arguably the best team in the West.
Portland has their first back-to-back of the season when they play at Houston Saturday evening.
Just one thing:
- James Harden lit up the Atlanta Hawks for 45 points Friday. I’m pretty sure Sam Presti has a TV. I still believe the Blazers can beat the Rockets. Let’s hope they come down to earth for Saturday’s game. Although it is Harden’s first game in front of his new home crowd so it seems unlikely this will be the night he slips. That being said, Damian Lillard should be able to really handle Jeremy Lin.