Where to begin with this one? Let’s start with the score because that’s basically the whole story. Saturday night in their first home game since the end of November, the Blazers fell 99-80 to the Sacramento Kings. The same Sacramento Kings who, back on the 13th of last month, lost to these same Blazers 103-86. Same two teams. Different venue. Different result. Portland came out flat in the first quarter, picked it up a bit in the second quarter, then fell apart over and over in the third and fourth quarters. That’s how you lose by 19 to the Kings.
Sacramento deserves most of the credit for Saturday. As flat and uninterested as the Blazers were, the Kings were as engaged and aggressive. Portland turned the ball over so many times in the first quarter that it seemed like almost ever Blazer possession ended with the ball in Sacramento’s hands.
In the opening frame, Portland went from the 9:17 mark to the 5:05 mark without scoring a basket. During that stretch Nicolas Batum coughed the ball up three times, Damian Lillard threw a bad pass, J.J. Hickson missed a jumper, Batum missed a couple threes, Dame missed a three, and LaMarcus Aldridge missed a free throw.
While all that terrible and inefficient offensive stuff was happening for Portland, Sacramento got baskets from Aaron Brooks, DeMarcus Cousins, Francisco Garcia, and Jason Thompson. Over this same stretch, a 9-7 Blazer lead turned into a 16-9 Kings lead.
I’m not trying to say Portland lost on Saturday because of a truly abhorrent four-minute stretch in the first quarter. Games are 48 minutes long, every minute has to be played. There were even extended periods in Saturday’s game when the Blazers played well, well enough to win, in fact. But the vast majority of the night went down in a manner almost identical to that few minutes in the middle of the first quarter.
Every time Portland made a run, Sacramento answered. When the Blazers stepped up their defensive intensity, the Kings packed the paint to force Portland into jump shots and neutralized their own misses and offensive short comings. And as the game started to slip away from Portland late in the third, Sacramento refused to let up. And that was all she wrote.
The Blazers now find themselves in an odd position. They’re home for most of the month. They’ve got some relatively easy opponents coming down the pike. And now they have to find a way to get wins. It’s not the position this team wants to be in. Following the game, coach Terry Stotts said that home stands can be difficult because a team expects to roll in to its own arena and the wins will just come. In the NBA, all wins are earned. Portland earned only two wins on their seven-game East Coast swing. They didn’t earn a win Saturday.
So what is it that this Blazer team needs to do to earn themselves a win?
The most important thing they can do is show up. Saturday Portland got out played, everybody said so post game. Recognizing that truth is good. Getting out played at home is unacceptable, but it can be avoided by showing up and playing engaged basketball from the tip, something basically nobody did Saturday.
The second, and almost equally, important thing these Blazers can do is not panic. Wesley Matthews and Nicolas are looking a little beat up, the bench is still hit and miss (mostly miss), LA’s game is still way off his All-Star level. This is going to be a rough road. But the rough road is what this season is all about. Damian Lillard said it best when I asked him after the game what can be learned from a loss like Saturday’s. He said they’ll learn the same things from Saturday that they’ve learned from every loss this season. That’s the way each game has to be approached.
This season, for better or worse, is not about winning and losing. It’s about learning the NBA game (for four of the five rookies), figuring out how to maintain and improve after an amazing start (Damian Lillard), and playing well without getting hurt or frustrated with losing (Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and especially LaMarcus Aldridge). Deviating from the long-term plan in an effort to serve the short term is no good for anybody. Panicking from a loss to the Kings (or a loss to say a team like the Raptors) and trying to force the issue, is not the solution. Panicky play and reckless intensity won’t make anything better.
Finally, these Blazers can earn a win by finding a way to score easy baskets. I know it’s a much more concrete solution than showing up and not panicking, but it’s something that needs to happen. Easy baskets can open up an offense, they can kill an opponent’s run, and they can put a game away.
Just look at Sacramento Saturday. The Kings bread and butter is DeMarcus Cousins. Getting him points near the basket is what drives that team. DMC wasn’t great in the first half, but in the third quarter his scoring in the paint, or at least his getting looks in the paint, helped turn a close game into a blow out. Cousins inside presence helped make it possible for Sacramento’s shooters to get open looks, and it was those open looks, to be specific, that helped give this game to the Kings. That’s what I mean by opening up the offense. Easy baskets lead to open threes, open threes lead to blowouts.
Right now easy baskets are hard to come by for Portland. More than that, easy baskets don’t seem to be what the Blazers are going for. Too many possessions Saturday night seemed to be geared to getting the ball out to the wings for threes and long twos. Some nights that’s not a bad idea. Saturday Nic’s shots weren’t going down, neither were Wesley’s. As a team, Portland shot 38% from deep, which is not great. What was a bit shocking though was that for much of the night the lane was available. Even when the Kings were putting five bodies in the paint, the Blazers were able to get inside, they just weren’t going inside with any regularity. The Blazers need to think about forcing the ball into the paint, and stop expecting/relying on outside shooting for all their scoring. Forcing the ball inside will help to get some of those easy baskets this team needs so badly, the kind of buckets that could have given Portland a win on Saturday.
The Blazers’ home stand continues Monday against the Raptors.
Just one quick thing:
- Prior to tip-off Saturday, a group of young people played a little basketball game. This group was in some way connected to Jimmer Fredette. Jimmer seems to be the kind of player who draws a crowd where ever he goes. He does have a constituency that most NBA players do not, so that’s a big part of it. Sadly for all of Jimmer’s kids, Fredette was DNP-CD’d. Maybe David Stern should fine Keith Smart. Holding out Fredette was a disservice to a very specific group of fans.