Well, what can you say? Last season the Blazers (9-7 at the time) rolled into Detroit to face the 4-13 Pistons. That night Portland, not quite a month removed from 7-2 start, shot a miserable 15% from three (3-for-20) and didn’t fare much better from the field (34-for-81 for 42%) on their way to 94-91 loss.
It’s basically taken as read at this point that last season fell apart following the controversial overtime loss at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 6th. I’m not going to go against canon and say that game wasn’t a turning point, however I will say that there was plenty of foreshadowing that 2011-12 was headed for trouble. Getting blown out at Phoenix in the seventh game of that season was the first sign of trouble. The loss in Detroit was another early warning sign.
Monday’s loss in Detroit is one of a different stripe. This is a different team with a different goals and a whole different set of obstacles to overcome over the course of 82 games. That doesn’t mean losing to a three-win Piston squad isn’t a bad thing, but it does mean that maybe let’s wait to get out the “Fire Stotts” hash-tag or the “Trade LaMarcus” chatter or the “Team Tank 12-13″ t-shirts.
Yes Portland should have beaten Detroit. Yes I stand by my prediction that Portland will finish the season with a better record than the Pistons. And yes it’s totally valid to be scared to death about the rest of this trip considering that coming into Monday’s game the Wizards were the only team left with a record worse than Detroit, and you know how hard it is for a professional basketball team to lose 14 games in a row.
That doesn’t mean it’s panic time, Blazer fans, and that’s primarily because there is not going to be a time this season that should cause us any sort of panic. It’s not going to be that kind of season. This is not going to be that kind of team. To be honest, the only thing Portland fans should have been panicking about Monday was the play in third quarter that ended with Meyers Leonard sitting court-side with a trainer running a couple stress tests on his knee.
Upon review of the tape, Meyers just took a Corey Maggette shin to the knee. It was nothing to worry about (he finished with 20 minutes of playing time without missing a beat) but there was a minute there when a somber Mike Barrett couldn’t help but to remind the local viewing audience that the Blazers have a bit of a history with centers and their knees. Basically that’s all Portland fans should be worrying about right now, can this team survive the season. Wins, losses, that’s for another season later on down the road when the Blazers’ record at the end of the season will really matter.
So if we don’t care about winning or losing, and if we specifically don’t care about losing to a really bad team, what can we make of Monday’s debacle in the Motor City. First, Portland’s starters need to show up en masse or this team has no chance. We all knew that. Second, size is an issue especially when playing against a muscular front line (even if they aren’t as skilled as some and younger than most). But we all knew that too. Third, it is very unlikely that the Blazers’ struggles will be diminished entirely by their bench. Sadly, we also knew that.
Am I saying that we as fans learn nothing new from losing to the Pistons? Essentially yes. If Portland shoots 42% and 32% from the field and three while giving up shooting numbers of 53% and and 60% from the field and three, if Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard combine to shoot 6-0f-27 from the floor and 2-of-8 from deep, and if two of the Blazers’ starters account for only seven points (Nicolas Batum) and nine points (J.J. Hickson) there’s a pretty good chance they lose to most teams in this league.
What we’ll really learn about Monday’s game won’t really be clear until Wednesday. Success in the NBA is based on a few factors: talent, execution, confidence, and pride. Talent and execution are paramount. Every player in the league is on the elite level, but there are clear talent gaps among players and among teams. Those talent gaps can be nullified by outstanding execution, and talent and execution are the two things that separate the Miami Heat, the San Antonio Spurs, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and those other teams that have a legitimate shot at the Larry O’Brien trophy from the Sacramento Kings and the Charlotte Bobcats.
But confidence and pride should also be regarded as key elements to success at the NBA level. I don’t doubt every guy on Portland’s roster has confidence in their abilities. Just as everybody in the NBA is an elite basketball player, so too do they know it. Being good and knowing it is basically the definition of confidence. Pride, though, is a different matter altogether. Some guys in the NBA are fine with getting beaten as long as they get their numbers. We’ll see whether or not these Blazers have pride in their game come Wednesday evening in the nation’s capital. Wednesday Portland meets the Washington Wizards.
At the time of this writing, the Wizards are win-less, 0-12. Washington fell Monday in San Antonio to the Spurs 118-92. A similar game from Portland on Wednesday, and there’s a decent chance the Wizards enter Thursday 1-12. Anybody in the NBA can win a game on any given night. It will be up to Portland to prove they have the pride to not let Monday’s loss turn into multiple losses.
Just a couple of things:
- Monday was Damian Lillard’s worst night. His shooting was bad, he couldn’t get a lot of calls, and he got torched by Brandon Knight. Dame still finished with 12 points, and fought to keep Portland kind of in the game down the stretch. Luckily the race for Rookie of the Year isn’t the Heisman. One bad game won’t sink Lillard’s ROY run. Hopefully Lillard will lead the bounce-back charge on Wednesday. Proving that he can overcome a bad game is another box on the list of things to do for Damian to check as he works his way through his first professional season.
- Damian Lillard’s worst night was Will Barton’s best. Barton finished with 12 points, 10 in the first half, and helped re-energize a listless Blazer team that came out of the gate flat-footed. Let’s all cross our fingers that Barton can find a way to build on a good game even if his team didn’t win on account of that good game.
- Along with Meyers Leonard having a brief knee thing, Jared Jeffries had a rough night physically. He hurt his wrist taking a charge in the first half and got chucked in the face by an elbow in the second half. For a minute Jeffries’ prognosis was broken nose and he wouldn’t be coming back. That turned out to not be true, and by the end of the evening it looked as if Jeffries would be alright. Making it through a rough trip injury-free should count as a win (even if there are no actual wins). So far so good, all things considered.