I waited over 12 hours to write about Portland’s loss on Friday to the LA Lakers primarily because I wanted to give myself some time to calm down and think about what I wanted to say before I committed it to the Internet.
Now that some time has passed, I can safely say that I’m not as upset about the outcome of this game on Saturday afternoon as I was on Friday evening. However, I can also safely say that I’m no less disappointed about it.
I’m disappointed in the Blazers for once again playing the kind of game that would have easily beaten the Suns, the Hornets, or the Magic in a game that featured none of those teams. I’m disappointed that two usually calm guys, LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews, lost their collective cools at inopportune times that led to costly technical fouls. I’m disappointed that a few sloppy offensive possessions and a few defensive lapses cost Portland what would have been a really impressive win.
But mostly I’m disappointed that the Blazers put themselves in a situation where they allowed sloppy (I’m not going to call it criminal but you know I’d like to) refereeing be the difference maker.
I don’t like to get caught up in blaming referees for loses, and I know that you end up sounding like a homeless dude wearing a tin foil hat when you start screaming about games being fixed or the system being rigged, but god damn, Friday night felt a lot like Portland got jobbed. I’m going to leave it at that, since in reality there’s no point in getting too caught up in what happened, how it happened, or why or why not the NBA absolutely needs the Los Angeles Lakers in the post season.
Instead of going down that rabbit hole, I’ll focus this recap on what has been a bit of a startling trend for these Portland Trail Blazers. That trend: playing very well against good teams (very very well against really really good teams) and basically not showing up against bad teams.
Friday was a bit of an in-betweener. The Lakers aren’t a great team any way you spin it. They do, however, have one of the best players at his position ever (Steve Nash), one of the best players at any position ever (Kobe Bryant), and a guy who likes to think he’s one of the best players at his position ever and reasonably could be in the top 15 (Dwight Howard).
They’re a locker room mess, a media bonanza, a narrative to end all narratives, and sometimes, the Lakers can play good basketball. Laker fans hope that they’ll put together enough of those sometimes (and that the Utah Jazz will go on tilt) to get into the post season. Should that happen, all bets are off.
Friday they played well (everybody but Steve Nash that is), and Portland played well right beside them. I said in my preview that if the Blazers could keep it close, they would have a chance. They kept it close, and they gave themselves a chance. That’s fantastic.
My question is, why can’t they do that against the Phoenix Suns, or the Washington Wizards, or the Cleveland Cavaliers? Why can’t they do that against the Sacramento Kings, or the Orlando Magic? The Detroit Pistons or the Milwaukee Bucks? Portland has lost to so many sub .500 teams this season, that it almost means nothing that they beat the Miami Heat, and the San Antonio Spurs, and the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Memphis Grizzlies, and the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers (all teams that will get or are fighting for home court advantage in the Playoffs).
Yes I’m upset that an obvious three (that was ruled a three then called a two then confirmed as a two after EXTENSIVE replay) by Nicolas Batum was called a two, making Friday a two-point game and not a one-point game (a huge difference considering that a one-point game would give Portland a chance to tie with a three after two made Laker free throws). Yes I’m upset that the Blazers (specifically Portland’s rookies) were getting mugged at or around the hoop and weren’t getting calls and on the other end Kobe Bryant was getting breathed on wrong and going to the line. Yes I’m upset that the Blazers aren’t a team that gets the benefit or the doubt or that national audiences are screaming about every single second of every day.
But what I’m more upset about is that this Blazer team can’t seem to decide if they’re a lottery team or a Playoff team. Because you can’t be both. You can’t lose to the worst team in the league and beat the best team in the league (which Portland has done) and expect everything to just be OK.
We’re coming to the point in the season where winning and losing matter only because it will determine where the Blazers fall in next season’s draft. I want to see this team win because I’m a Blazer fan and it hurts me physically and emotionally when my team loses. But I also want this season to be a stepping stone, a build block for success, and every other rock/construction debris related cliche you can think of.
If Portland can finish the season with big wins against good teams, giving this young roster something to build off of and making this franchise attractive to big name free agents, I don’t care if they punt their draft pick. If the Blazers’ can’t get those big wins, then I’m OK with Meyers Leonard, Will Barton, Joel Freeland, and Victor Claver getting some serious minutes so the team can see which of those guys should stay and which should be packaged and traded.
What I’m not OK with is being somewhere in the middle. I know they didn’t beat the Lakers on Friday, so the winning big games part of my theory is moot, but still as frustrated as I am with what happened Friday night at the Staples Center, I’m much more frustrated with the fact that these Blazers can’t figure out a way to play like they did against the Lakers (or the Heat or the Spurs or the Knicks) against every team they play every night.
And that’s not something that can be blamed on the
criminals guys in gray shirts calling fouls.
Portland is back in action against the Boston Celtics at the Rose Garden Sunday night. A win against Boston will go a long way to forget the Blazers’ most recent
Two quick things:
- Damian Lillard reached 1,000 points on Friday. Dame is the first rookie since Arvydas Sabonis to score at least 1,000 points in a season. Lillard is also the first player in the NBA to record 1,000 points and 300 assists in their first 55 games since LeBron James. Damian had a pretty great night on Friday, even if he was only 1-of-5 from three. He certainly suffered from lack of calls, especially on a three-point attempt late in the game that ended with Dame getting absolutely cleaned out by Kobe Bryant and again on another three-point attempt with less than 10 seconds remaining in which Kobe smacked Damian on the top of the head. Ah well. At least as Blazer fans we can take solace in knowing that at some point in his career, Damian Lillard will get Kobe Bryant calls.
- Portland’s newest acquisition, Eric Maynor, is very likely to be in action Sunday night against the Celtics. If you’re not excited about Maynor coming to Portland, you should be. He’s not a game-changer, but he is going to be an upgrade of maybe 10 times over what this team has had at the back-up point guard spot. Should be fun to see what he can do.
It was brought to my attention that I inverted the scores in the headline to this post. It was an accident, and it has been corrected. It wasn’t, as some probably thought, a bitter Blazer fans attempt to say that should the calls have gone the right way, the Blazers would have been victorious by four over the Lakers and not the other way around. I would never say that.