Not going to lie, sometimes it’s tough to be a Blazer fan. Sunday was one of those times. Not only did we all have to watch as Gustavo Ayon torched Portland from inside and J.J. Redick torched Portland from the outside, we had to put up with tweets like this:
#Blazers PG Damian Lillard, the leading candidate for the Rookie of the year, is 1 of 10 and has missed all 4 of his 3-point tries.
— John Denton (@JohnDenton555) February 11, 2013
And tweets like this:
Damian Lillard’s 1/16 FGs the worst by a Magic opponent in team history (min. 15 FGAs)
— Evan Dunlap (@BQRMagic) February 11, 2013
And tweets like this:
How do the Blazers lose to Orlando? Allow 50.5 percent shooting and Damian Lillard shoots 1-for-16 from the field
— Jason Quick (@jwquick) February 11, 2013
And tweets like this:
Damian Lillard 1/16 FG 0/8 from the ark. HAHAHA
— Jance Go (@janceloser) February 11, 2013
We’ve been incredibly lucky this season in that we’ve gotten to see a historical rookie season from Damian Lillard. He’s been nothing short of amazing, and on some nights he has been plain old amazing.
But because of that, we might have also forgotten that Sunday was only his 51st game as a professional. That it was the first time he’d every played in Orlando (not that that means anything really beyond everything being new to him). And that even when he plays poorly, he’s still the only guy on Portland’s roster who should be running the point, and that without him the Blazers wouldn’t be anywhere near 25 wins.
Lillard is a rookie. Every rookie has a game, or two or three or 10, when he looks like a rookie. Dame has had his down moments, but he very easily had his worst shooting game of the season Sunday night. That it came against a team Portland probably should have beaten in one of the only games on this road trip that you probably could have penciled in as a W before they left town, well that’s just bad luck.
With each passing day, it’s looking more and more like the Blazers will not be making the Playoffs. If Portland’s goal for 2012-13 was to stay relevant and connected (so as not to fall too deep into the sink hole at the bottom of the NBA ladder), then by almost all accounts they have succeeded. And they’ve succeeded due in no small part to Damian Lillard.
In fact, if the goal was to take the whole thing down and rebuild basically from scratch, the move by Neil Olshey would likely be to ship both LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews and build around Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard, Nicolas Batum, and whatever other pieces you get through one, two, or even three more shots at the Draft Lottery. The play of Damian Lillard, the proof that he won’t need two seasons to be an effective starting point guard, might have significantly altered the long-term development of this team. In short, through 51 games, Lillard might have bought Blazer fans five to seven more years of LaMarcus Aldridge.
So that’s what we need to think about when looking at Sunday’s box score. Losing to the Magic doesn’t mean the season is over. It’s not a great thing, made doubly not great considering Portland’s next game is in Miami against a Heat team with a taste for revenge, but there’s a good chance that in 365 days the Blazers will be a significantly better team. A team that won’t be the designated slump breaker for teams that have lost a dozen times straight. We all have that to look forward to.
Are there any positive takeaways from Sunday, other than knowing that Damian Lillard probably won’t miss 15 field goal attempts against the Heat on Tuesday? Sure there are.
First, Nicolas Batum is starting to look healthy again. Nic hit six of his 12 field goal attempts and four of his threes. He still looks a little shaky, but his confidence is coming back. Batum, more than a lot of guys out there, ebbs and flows as his confidence rises and falls. He’s been pretty confident in his game all season. The wrist injury shook him a bit, but probably not even to derail him completely. For his trouble, Nicolas also collected eight rebounds and six assists.
Second positive, LaMarcus Aldridge continues to play like an All-Star. His game was a little off tonight, maybe because of a stomach bug maybe because Nikola Vucevic is on that list of European centers named Nikola who are a load in the paint, but his jumper was falling. LA’s 25 points are leading by example at its absolute best. If he continues to play hard and put up big numbers as the limitations of his team continues to lead to losses, there’s a pretty good chance that core members of this group don’t get too disillusioned with re-building.
Third positive, Joel Freeland and Victor Claver gave Portland some very strong minutes. Claver and Freeland are pretty big question marks for this team. Because of the way bringing guys over from Europe works, the new Spaniard and the Brit are guaranteed through 2013-14 with team options for two seasons after that (according to storytellerscontracts.com). Portland’s at least committed to them for the short-term (unless the Blazers put them into a trade). If the timeline of the rebuild is sped up a bit, these two guys will either have to contribute now or risk getting lost on the depth chart when Olshey goes out and gets a free agent or two (either that or get traded). Claver has proven to be effective, if a little scatter-shot, on offense, and possibly a capable fourth or fifth, spot-minute forward. Freeland, has been lost in the shuffle. He’s played in only 29 of Portland’s first 51 games. He hasn’t played more than 10 minutes since January. Sunday he didn’t get to 10 minutes, but in 9:39 he collected six points on 3-of-4 from the field, and was a team-high +11. If Freeland and Claver figure out a way to contribute like they did Sunday night on a regular basis, they could go a long way to shoring up Portland’s bench.
And one more positive. Damian Lillard finished his worst night as a professional with 12 assists. And then tweeted this:
Bad shooting night…and I aimt discouraged #seasonGOESon goodnight
— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) February 11, 2013
Portland travels to Miami on Tuesday.
One quick thing:
- We should be paying close attention to what is happening with Meyers Leonard. Sunday he had a good stretch on offense, and gave it almost all back with his poor defense. He played 8:17 on Sunday, scored four points, and had only a single rebound compared to two personal fouls. Pay attention to this. Certainly if Portland continues to lose and is mathematically eliminated sooner rather than later, Meyers will see his minutes go up, and that might improve his numbers and speed up his development. However, if the Blazers are in a tight Playoff race into March, it will be more eight minute nights for Leonard. Meyers is a Lottery pick, he needs to be better. At this point he’s a forgotten man, and for a good reason. Let’s hope he’s the type of player who can develop in practice and at a big man camp in the off-season.