Opportunity is the name of the game in the NBA. Over the course of an 82-game regular season, the teams that take advantage of their opportunities are the ones that end up playing extra games in April and beyond.
Portland had an opportunity Wednesday night in Dallas. With their nearest competitor for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoffs the Houston Rockets falling to Heat in Miami, the door was open for the Blazers to jump one very important place in the standings. The one-game buffer between the Rockets and the Blazers will be thrown into relief this coming Friday when Portland continues their road trip in Houston.
That match-up was already the most important game of this group of six, but if the Blazers hit the Toyota Center in downtown Houston up a couple percentage points on the Rockets, they would have given themselves a very good opportunity to build on what has been a pretty remarkable early- to mid-season run. Alas, with the loss in Dallas, it’s an opportunity squandered.
Just as an 82-game season can be turned either positive or negative by striking whilst the iron is still smoking, so too can a 48-minute contest be dictating by taking advantage of opportunities if an when they arise. Such is the case of Portland’s most recent failure to close out a close game. Wednesday came down to one or two crucial possessions, most of them weren’t late, and basically all of them broke in favor of Dallas.
The Blazers put on a shooting clinic in the first quarter that carried over into the second quarter, but it was two plays at the end of the second quarter that would set the tone for Wednesday’s final 24 minutes. With just over a minute left in the first half, Portland forced Darren Collison into a tough 19-foot, which he missed. Instead of jumping on the rebound and getting an extra possession that could have pushed their lead to 10 or more, the Blazers allowed Collison to get his own rebound, giving Dallas an extra possession. That extra possession turned into two points from Vince Carter.
Portland got the ball back with 46 seconds to play, Nicolas Batum missed a three, and the Mavs finished the half with a 13-footer from Dirk Nowitzki. Don’t blame it all on the failure to secure a defensive rebound, but the extra possession for the home team enabled Dallas to cut what could have been a 10-point lead to a four-point lead at intermission.
Another example of the opportunistic basketball Dallas played that got them a win Wednesday came with 1:15 left in the fourth quarter and the Mavericks clinging to 97-94 lead. After another missed long jumper from Collison, Elton Brand once again corralled an offensive rebound, and once again the Mavericks were given an extra possession. This time Dallas didn’t turn their extra shot into points, but the few ticks that melted off the clock without the ball in Portland’s hands where pretty pivotal.
And then as a whole, there was the fact that Dallas took full advantage of the fact that Portland couldn’t hit a shot at all in the second half. When you are trying to win games on the road, making shots is important. When trying to win a home game, out0-shooting your opponent is imperative. Credit Dallas with taking advantage of the Blazers’ many many second half misses. Credit Dallas also with taking advantage of a Vince Carter throw-back game. Credit Dallas one more time with making damn well sure Portland was going to get the better of them at the end of yet another game.
So an opportunity goes begging for the Blazers, but there will still be more opportunities on this trip. By winning in Minnesota, Portland set themselves up for a .500 road trip by beating the worst teams left on the docket prior to the All-Star Break. The chance is here for the Blazers to climb up the Western Conference ladder. Splitting the games that are left maintains the status quo. That’s not a bad thing.
If the Blazers can play like Dallas did on Wednesday, and maximize their opportunities if/when they arise, there’s always a chance Portland does even better than stasis.
Let’s stick with that line of thinking, instead of speculating that the Blazers are in trouble because Nicolas Batum is favoring his wrist in the extreme, and Wesley Matthews has shown inconsistency at the worst possible moments, and forcing the ball to LaMarcus Aldridge late in games instead of letting Damian Lillard attack, shoot, and freelance has shown to not be the best course of action, and J.J. Hickson’s rebounding numbers are flashy but his clutch rebounds are few and far between and his scoring touch has improved but he seems to miss an awful lot at the rim.
That kind of thinking gets us nowhere.
Portland will stay in Texas and face the Rockets on Friday (as I already mentioned).
Couple of quick things:
- Meyers Leonard has seen his minutes basically disappear. It’s been awhile (to say the least) since he’s had meaningful second half minutes. Wednesday, of all the Blazers who played, Meyers played the least. Portland’s other lottery pick had one rebound in two minutes and 53 seconds.
- The Blazers made nine threes in the first half, and finished with 10 on the game. I like that Portland has faith in their deep ball. Wesley Matthews, Damian Lillard, and Nicolas Batum have all proved to be pretty reliable shooters. However, I would have really liked to see the Blazer guards attack the basket late in the second half. Lillard’s only scoring in the second half came from the free throw line. Not great, but his forays to the rim were much better than chucking bricks from 30 feet.
- Vince Carter is one of those old guys who you often forget is pretty amazing at basketball until he basically explodes. Carter was on fire Wednesday, he finished with 17 points, shooting 7-of-15 from the field, and knocked down important jumpers at the end of the second, third, and fourth quarters. The Mavs have to basically win out to make the Playoffs. I have no idea what Mark Cuban’s long-term plan is with his team. Dirk is aging, and there aren’t many young dudes on Dallas’s bench. If they’re looking to dump salary, I could see Carter getting added to a roster looking for bench help for the post-season run. Vince’s salary is a bit high ($3.1 million) and guaranteed through 2013-14, so a team like Oklahoma City might not want to take the risk. I could see the Spurs going for it though. There isn’t a team in the league better at taking veterans who should be finished and turning them into invaluable cogs in a championship team. The question is, of course, what can San Antonio offer Dallas for Vinsanity? Probably not a whole lot. Speaking of Vince Carter, he is exactly the kind of player the Blazers don’t want to sign this season (or likely any other), just in case you were expecting Portland to go after a veteran that could push them into the Playoffs. That San Antonio could seriously benefit from Carter and Portland couldn’t is one of many important differences between the Blazers and the Spurs.