I heard a radio interview withThe Oregonian’s Jason Quick back in 08-09 that I feel like might be relevant to what happened in Washington D.C. Wednesday evening. Quick was being asked, by John Canzano I think, how hard he was supposed to take it on the team he covered.
The question was framed such as to ask whether or not a veteran team should be taken to the cleaners over phoning it in one night knowing full well that a single loss in the middle of a long season has no real bearing on a team’s record or their potential Playoff position or if a young team should be blasted for making young-team mistakes knowing that the measure of success for a young team isn’t wins and losses.
Quick’s response was mostly that his coverage, insofar as how much he choose to attack the Blazers on a game-by-game basis, reflected the expectations of the team. A good team, like the 1999-2000 Blazers that would end their season losing Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, needed to be taken to task for losing games they were supposed to win because they were supposed to win a lot of games. The 08-09 Blazers, a super-hyped up-and-coming team with almost unlimited potential, could be forgiven every now and then if they lost a close game or struggled to compete because (at the time) the future looked incredibly bright and the present was so much better than the past.
So let’s all try to think about that when we think about how the 0-12 Washington Wizards are now the 1-12 Washington Wizards thanks in part to the fact that the Portland Trail Blazers are right now not a very good basketball team. Monday in Detroit was bad, Wednesday in Washington was bad, it seems like it can’t get much worse.
Portland shot 35% from the field, 32% from three, and 67% from the free throw line Wednesday in Washington. All of those are bad. Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, and Damian Lillard have, to this point, been pretty consistent from three. Wednesday Wesley was 1-of-8 from deep. Nicolas and Damian were far better than that (5-of-10 for Nic, 4-of-9 for Damian), but they both missed long jumpers (Dame’s wasn’t a three, but Nic’s was) late in the game. Damian’s would have completed Portland’s fourth quarter comeback. Nic’s was off an in-bounds play with 31 seconds left to play and was so bad as to be offensive.
What are we to make of that? Some of it is regression. Some of it is general inconsistency from players who are known to be inconsistent. Some, for Damian, can be chalked up to rookie struggles. That would be taking it easy on the Blazers.
If you want to go hard on Portland, you could say that a huge problem with their offense was that they weren’t attacking the hoop and when they were they were doing it in the least effective way possible. You could also say the Blazers’ offense had a rough night because Portland’s back-court was loose with the ball and slow to make decisions, almost as if they weren’t really committed to Wednesday’s game. The Blazers’ 11 turnovers don’t really tell the whole story, but there were far too many possessions in the half-court that didn’t get started until 10 seconds had elapsed on the shot clock.
And speaking of not being committed, Wednesday Portland didn’t even show up until midway through the fourth quarter. A 15-point run to start the game and a 15-point run to close the game should be enough to beat a win-less and hapless team like the Wizard. Unfortunately for the Blazers there was the matter of the 2nd and 3rd quarters when they got outscored 45-32.
If the Blazers had played the Wizards to a tie for 40 minutes and then made a run for the last eight minutes, instead of playing behind for 35 minutes and then trying frantically to not lose in the game’s closing 10 minutes, there’s a pretty good chance Portland would have won this game. That’s a very small level of commitment and engagement considering the competition, but it was too much for these Blazers.
There’s another issue at play here though, and one that really needs to be addressed. Portland simply cannot play defense. It’s an issue for another day though. When things go as poorly as they did on Wednesday for the Blazers offensively, it just seems like piling on to lay into them for their defense.
I will say this though, through 12 games the Wizards shot 40% from the field and 30% from three. Wednesday Washington shot 44% from the field and 42% from three. A four percent boost isn’t that crazy, but a 12% jump is something. It’s hard to know if the Blazers’ defensive problems are due to lack of effort or poor defensive scheming, whatever it is, Washington was making shots because they were getting a ton of open looks. Portland is going to have a figure out a way to get stops, or they’re very likely not going to win very many games.
So that brings me back to my opening about how we are supposed to react to all of this. Part of me wants to say that we shouldn’t get too bogged down in this kind of loss. Washington was bound to get a win eventually, they new Portland was their best chance for awhile, they played well enough to win, and down the stretch the Blazers failed to execute missing free throws, getting empty possessions, and running god awful in-bounds plays. In the long run this loss is more symbolic than anything. Portland will recover. It’s not the end of the world.
There’s another part of me, though, that thinks this kind of showing is unacceptable. Yes the Blazers are bad, and yes I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s more likely that I’ll win the lottery than Portland will make the Playoffs. But this team is not this bad. A week ago their starting five looked close to fantastic and their bench, though limited, was helping just enough to keep the Blazers in games and give them a chance to win. To go from that to losing to two teams with a current combined record of 6-23 is simply mind boggling. Something needs to happen, or this is going to be an embarrassing season that Portland fans shouldn’t be forced to sit through.
Luckily Wesley Matthews feels the same way. According to Joe Freeman, Wesley had some words for his teammates after Wednesday’s loss. Hopefully it will have some impact. If this season gets away from the Blazers it’s going to be hard to stomach. Unlike last season, management isn’t going to blow it up. For better or for worse we stuck with what we have. The good thing about that is that the guys that got themselves to this spot will also be the ones forced to get out of it. Reinforcements aren’t coming. Terry Stotts is not going to get fired. LaMarcus Aldridge is not going to be traded. There’s no savior and there are going to be no excuses.
The fun thing now is deciding whether or not we think the 2o12-13 Blazers deserve to bashed for lack of effort, or if it’s early enough to call this season a wash, and enjoy the fact that Damian Lillard is probably going to lock up the Rookie of the Year by the All-Star break.
Personally, I’m undecided. The Blazers very much deserve the hard criticism they will receive far and wide from the Internet (I’d recommend avoiding the Internet until Portland is back from this trip). They also should be given some leeway, we knew coming into this season (what with a thousand new guys on the roster and an entirely new coaching staff) things were going to be rough. Getting through 82 games without a major injury should be cause for celebration. Criticism that doesn’t reflect that reality is negative for the sake of being negative, in the parlance of the Internet age: trolling.
Be warned though, not a lot of Blazer fans are going to be in my camp. I’m the kind of fan who thinks Portland has a chance Friday in Boston, and is capable of a double-digit winning streak, and should things break right will make the Playoffs. No matter how bad it gets, I think it can and will always get better. The good thing is, Portland won’t play another team with a record as bad as Washington’s. By that logic, it’s impossible for things to get any worse.
I have nothing else to say about this game.