The better team walked off the floor of the Rose Garden Monday night with a victory, there’s almost no way a sane person could disagree with that. Sadly, the better team in the RG Monday night was the Washington Wizards and not the Blazers. Portland now has the distinction of losing twice to a team that has only won 9 games. They’ve also now lost six in a row and four in a row at home. What started as a pretty promising month and a prelude to what could be an unexpectedly promising season has gone south in a hurry.
As Nicolas Batum said very succinctly after Monday’s loss, this team could snap their fingers and be on a ten-game losing streak. And that very well could be the end of 2012-13.
So in the face of all that, I’m going to make a wild suggestion: stay positive. Rebuilding in a league like the NBA takes time. Portland has taken the longer route, choosing to rebuild through the draft and not through free agency. It makes sense considering the Rose City has never been a big free agent destination, that and after last season’s house cleaning the buzz words were long-term fixes not short-term corrections. By choosing to rebuild through the draft, the Blazers took a gamble. I would say that with that gamble they hit the jackpot. Damian Lillard is a bona fide star in the making. Regardless of the development of Meyers Leonard, Lillard alone has made the draft worth it.
Along with winning the 2012 NBA Draft, Portland also came out like gang busters in the off season free agency period. The Blazers may not have landed Roy Hibbert, but Nicolas Batum is certainly earning the paycheck Portland was forced to give him. J.J. Hickson also could be considered a free agent win. His actual contributions have been schizophrenic, leaning towards detrimental (he’s probably the first guy to look directly at when handing out blame for at least one or two of Portland’s last six losses), but his numbers are good enough to trade him for pieces, and if they aren’t, at least the Blazers are not committed to him for anything after this season.
So yes, losing to Wizards twice in one season, getting beat on your home court by a buzzer beater from 31 feet, trying and failing to come all the way back night after night after night, those are tough things to swallow right now. But if you think about all of that as part of the process, a process that leads to Playoff berths, and Playoff victories, and deep post season runs, then it becomes a little easier to take one big step back from the ledge.
What’s more, the evidence of this process working isn’t hard to find. Forget the score for a minute. Monday night, Nicolas Batum collected his first career triple double (12 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists), Damian Lillard proved that once again he can keep his head in a game in which he struggles for 24 minutes (1-of-7 from the field and 0-of-1 from three for two points in the first half; 6-of-10 from the field and 2-of-5 from three for 16 points in the second half, a perfect 5-of-5 from the field and 2-of-2 from three Monday’s final quarter), LaMarcus Aldridge collected another double-double (17 points and 11 rebounds), and Wesley Matthews came up with a couple really big shots.
These are the guys to watch, the ones who are going to be around in the future to lead the Blazers to wins. They’re playing great basketball right now. They’re showing outstanding fortitude, significant improvement, and incredible potential. The wins aren’t there right now, they may not be there on a regular basis for the rest of the season, but I’m committed to going blue in the face telling people that winning games right now isn’t what matters.
Most of the talk around Portland’s locker room Monday night was about getting back on track, finding a way to win games, and maintaining an attitude devoid of either panic or desperation. This is not the attitude of a team taking comfort in being better now than anybody expected or appreciating the fact that they very well might be a whole season ahead of their rebuilding schedule. That’s fine. To be honest, that’s good. As professional basketball players, it is the job of every guy on the Blazers’ roster to try and win games. If they can’t actually win games, at least they’re continuing to try.
And if it’s the job of professional basketball players to try and win games, regardless of the outcome, then as fans, may I suggest it is our job to maintain the positivity. This team is four guys strong, and they’ll get there. We just have to try and stay around long enough to be there when it happens.
If you’re looking for an anthem to remind you how to feel about the Blazers at this moment, here’s a good one:
The Blazers are back in action at the Rose Garden Wednesday to take on the Indiana Pacers. If you thought it was going to easier for this team, think again.
Couple of quick things:
- Head coach Terry Stotts mentioned not doing the “little things,” and those little things adding up to a loss. Stotts decided not to expand on what he meant by little things, but I can guess things like turning over the ball (which Portland did 13 times on Monday), not defending the paint (Washington scored 44 points inside), and missing free throws (the Blazers missed four free throws for the game) would count as little things. Those numbers aren’t astounding, 13 turnovers isn’t that many, 44 is a manageable number of points, four free throws is nothing, but taken as a whole, they more than account for all three of the points that separated these two teams at the end of the evening.
- Nene had 17 points in 9:46 in Monday’s first quarter. The big Brazilian shot 8-of-9 from the field to start, and looked completely unstoppable. During the first quarter, I predicted Nene would finish with 25 points (ask Ben Golliver if you doubt me). I make a lot of predictions that are wrong, I’m no Nate Silver after all. Monday, Nene finished with 24 points. He missed a free throw in the fourth quarter, or else I would have hit it right on the head.
- I’ve spent a lot of time defending Martell Webster. I’ve always believed in his potential, and I’ve always really liked his game. As a Blazer he was incredibly frustrating, but when he was hot, he could burn the building to the ground. I started writing about the Blazers in 2008-09 as an intern with the team. That season, Martell hurt his foot in the first game of the preseason, and missed all but one game. In 2009-10, I was adrift on the non-blogging sea, so I probably didn’t write a single sentence about basketball during that season. I came back into the fold with RCP at the beginning of 2010-11, and by that time, Webster was gone. I’ve never had the opportunity to write anything about a guy I more than once described as the “X-Factor” on a team that included an All-Star-level Brandon Roy. Monday, he showed why I believe that as goes Martell Webster, so goes his team. He can beat you in so many ways. His stroke is as pure as it gets so he’ll kill you from deep (4-of-6 from three Monday), and he’s big and athletic so he’s dangerous at the rim (Monday he had two huge backdoor dunks both on Nicolas Batum, the guy who prospered from Webster’s broken foot in 08-09 and drove him out of town after 09-10). The problem with Martell is that he’s always been a one in four or five nights player at best. If he’s relied upon to carry the load offensively every night, he’s a liability. Webster’s managed to stick in the NBA longer than some thought he might. He’s started the majority of his games with the Wizards this season, and he’s making a little bit of hay with the time he’s been given. His 24 points tied Nene for tops among all scorers Monday night. Seven seasons in the league, and we’re still talking potential, but that’s OK since Marty’s only 26. Here’s what I’m driving at, bring Martell Webster back to Portland. He’ll be a free agent after this season. He’s going to be cheap. And in Portland, he’d come off the bench, so his offensive duties would be limited. Win-win-win.
- All of Jordan Crawford’s 13 points came in the fourth quarter.