Portland's head coach Terry Stotts says his team is competing. They're still not winning and are now 2-5. Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-US PRESSWIRE

Game 7 Recap: Blazers 87, Hawks 95

If this were 2000 or 2001 and Blazers’ head coach Terry Stotts kept a LiveJournal, his entry for November 12th, which he would type up on Portland’s short flight to Sacramento following their most recent loss at the Rose Garden this time to the Atlanta Hawks, would begin with his current mood as frustrated tilting perilously close to angry and his current music as “This Year,” from The Mountain Goats seminal angry indie rock opus The Sunset Tree (I know that record came out in 2005 but this is an imaginary scenario, so deal with it).

Stotts would have to write his entry in Word and then transfer it to LJ once the team plane landed. The lack of airborne Internet (this is the early aughts remember) would give coach time to reflect, probably also a chance to remove some of his more choice obscenities, and by the time the thing went live, probably at least some of that anger would have subsided.

Blazer fans, I beseech you, take the same approach as my fictionally rendered coach Stotts and his made-up post for an also-ran social media platform. Be upset right now, in the direct aftermath of yet another almost but not quite loss at home, that Portland can’t seem to play defense for more than half of a half, and that not a single guy outside of the Blazers’ starting five can actually score, and that it really seems like one or two fewer foul calls, or turnovers, or missed free throws, or surrendered offensive rebounds and the Blazers would be 3-0 on this first extended home stand and not 0-3 and tied for last in the Western Conference.

Be upset that the Blazers came out flat on Monday, turned the ball over a million times, and let the Atlanta Hawks score all of the game’s first nine points. This was the worst we’ve seen Portland play all season. Or at least this is worst we’ve seen the Blazers play at home this season, they also played pretty poorly in their actual blowout loss to Dallas.

Anger and frustration are the natural reactions when a team goes through the kind of stretch these Blazers seem to be right in the middle of. But once you get your anger and frustration out of the way, take that next step, and get over it.

Guys, and gals, let’s be honest. This is not a good team. It’s not a bad team, not really, but it’s not a good team. Teams that aren’t good go through this kind of thing. They lose. They turn the ball over. They step out of bounds at critical times. They give up back breaking dunks. They do all the things Portland has done to lose these last three games.

We should get over being angry about it for two reasons. First because losses are basically double good right now. The old sports axiom is true, team’s learn more from losing than they do from winning, and if Portland continues to stay this course and doesn’t do anything internally or externally to get better we’ll be right back in the Lottery and bringing home that crucial third draft addition. Like I said, double good.

But we should also get over our anger and our frustration because this team is not going to give up. For better or for worse, they’re going to play hard. Call it what you want. In his post game presser, in which he did not mention LiveJournal even a single time, coach Stotts called it competing. Although it’s sort of redundant and meaningless to say his team is competing (they are literally competing by default just by stepping on the court) it has a much nicer ring to it and doesn’t smack quite so much of desperation as saying his team is trying. But that’s exactly what they are doing, they are trying. They’re just not winning.

Here’s a good example of what Stotts means. With basically no time left on the clock and the game decided, Nicolas Batum made a hard drive down the lane to try and score on a lay-up. Even though he was completely unguarded, since Atlanta was up eight and there was only seconds left on the clock, Nic missed at the rim. He failed to score, but he didn’t fail to try. Nic could have very easily stood at the top of the circle and dribbled out the clock, as Jeff Teague did when he corralled Nic’s miss, but he chose not to. In a losing effort, without much else to hang your hat on, you have to at least applaud the effort.

I’ve been saying it for a few games now, and with each passing day it’s becoming more and more clear: this season is about beginning a long-term project to regain relevancy. Monday night the Blazers announced that their highly prized and praised sell-out streak was coming to an end. It was a symbolic move; as somebody in the Blazersedge comment section called it, Management 101.

My guess is that the decision to officially end the sell-out streak, something that could have easily been done last year when fans stopped showing up to watch the Luke Babbitt, Jonny Flynn, Hasheem Thabeet, and Nolan Smith show, has a lot to do with getting out in front of dropping attendance should it happen and even more to do with establishing this organization as an almost wholly new entity.

The Blazers want to compete in the long-term. That means bringing on a coach who is a big picture thinker and a General Manager who can build for the future. It also means having a management team that can take the long-view and predict the future storms so they’re ready for them when the rear their ugly heads. This is the narrative of Portland’s season.

It will take place on the court as Terry Stotts runs his starting five ragged so that by this time next month they’ll know each others games so well Damian Lillard will be swinging passes to Wesley Matthews in the corner for open threes with his eyes closed. It will take place in gyms around the country as Neil Olshey and his team of scouts try and figure out which blue chipper fits best with the roster. And it’s clearly happening in the front office as Chris McGowan and his folks begin paving the way for what will very likely be a heavy resurgence ad campaign.

It will take time. Portland’s going to have to find some combination of players who can contribute off the bench. They’re going to have to find a better way to meld the offensive talents in the starting five (sorry tankers but I’d put the odds at Olshey trading LaMarcus or Wesley for draft picks and cap space slightly above 0%). And the Blazers are going to have to actually win a couple of close games or else they are going to be playing their home games in an empty gym. Those things will come, though.

I’d be willing to bet that there will come a day when our 2000 or 01, LiveJournaling coach Terry Stotts writes a post that starts current mood: euphoric current music: Queen “We Are The Champions.”

Too much? How about current mood: satisfied current music: Tom Petty “Even The Losers.”

Portland takes on the only team in the Western Conference that doesn’t have a better record than they do Tuesday night in Sacramento.

Couple of quick things:

  • Terry Stotts said in his post game remarks that Meyers Leonard has the green light to shoot short jumpers and he would like to see him be less hesitant in taking open looks when they come around. I agree. Although Meyers shouldn’t be taking a bunch of jump shots, he shouldn’t be afraid to shoot. He’s a decent shooter, and he’s not going to get any better without practicing his shot at game speed.
  • Same goes for Joel Freeland. Joel got some minutes Monday (11 and a half of them if you’re keeping track at home). He was scoreless, but he did take five shots. When he’s open, he has to take them. They’ll start falling.
  • Portland held the Hawks to less than 100 points and to below 50% shooting from the field, both firsts on the season. It’s a start. That being said, a significant factor in Atlanta’s shoot had nothing to do with Portland’s defense. Josh Smith shot 9-of-22. For a stretch in the second half he looked like he wasn’t even trying to hit the rim. For further reading on Josh Smith, and why he’s such an interesting player to watch and puzzle over, I direct you to FreeDarko’s absolutely paradigm shifting work The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac.

Box Score

Standings

Soaring Down South

@mikeacker | @ripcityproject | [email protected]

 

 

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Tags: Atlanta Hawks Damian Lillar Jeff Teague LaMarcus Aldridge Meyers Leonard Nicolas Batum Portland Trail Blazers Wesley Matthews

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