Conventional wisdom tells us that people are very rarely give second chances. But what if that second chance isn’t so much a chance to make up for a previously missed opportunity, but a chance to be successful a in the exact same way a second time? Does this count as a second chance? Or can it be better classified as tempting fate?
Wednesday night, down two and the ball sideline out of bounds, Terry Stotts decided to go with the play that yielded this result:
It’s hard to say that on Wednesday night the Nuggets were game planning for the low-block direct entry pass from Wesley Matthews to LaMarcus Aldridge because the shot LA got against the over-matched Wilson Chandler was about as good as the Blazers could have hoped for.
The easy explanation is that Aldridge missed a nine-footer that he usually cans because not every shot can go in. The more metaphysical explanation is that Stotts got greedy going back to the LA-game winner well, and had he chosen to draw up a play for Damian Lillard (who hit a three with three seconds left on the clock to even put the Blazers in a position to tie or win on the last possession of the game) or Wesley Matthews (who has had the hot hand for the last few games) he would have been rewarded for his originality and daring-do with a game-winner three bomb.
All things considered, Stotts lived with what he called a very good look from LaMarcus Aldridge, and given the chance, LA on the left block with his back to the basket is probably the play he draws up again. No risk no reward, as Steve Guttenberg would say, is not really the motto the Terry Stotts led Blazers have stuck to this season (almost all of this season’s game winners have come in tied games, and given the choice Stotts almost always goes for the tie and not the win). It makes for less thrilling basketball, but I understand taking the safe route when you’re a first year head coach playing with house money and an over-achieving lottery team.
LaMarcus Aldridge’s missed jumper is what will be remembered from Wednesday night. What probably won’t be remembered, though, is that Portland played neck and neck with one of the Western Conference’s best out and out scoring teams. What also won’t be remembered is how the Blazers did it. Portland got balanced scoring from its starting five, and 13 off the bench from Meyers Leonard. Meyers hasn’t had a double-digit scoring effort since November, and he hasn’t played a key offensive role in a meaningful game probably at all in 2012-13.
Maybe that Wednesday was Leonard’s 21st birthday had an impact on his play (he’s a year older now so maybe he’s a year more mature in terms of basketball ability). Possibly Meyers had a big night because the Nuggets played very little defense and all of Leonard’s points came from dunks and free throws. Whatever the case may be, molding Meyers Leonard into a regular contributor is what this final run of games is going to be all about.
By falling to the Nuggets on Wednesday, the Blazers finish February 3-9. I predicted they’d come out of the second to last full month of the season 7-5. Clearly, I was wrong. Even more clearly, the “playoff race” is now for head in the sand die hard fans only.
That doesn’t mean all hope is lost. It just means that winning is no longer the measure by which to decide if a game is successful or not. And losing is no longer something that should make these Blazers and its fan base despondent and dejected. It means that Meyers Leonard is going to get more run. It means that Eric Maynor is also going to more prominently featured, same with Victor Claver. It means that, even in losses that are likely forthcoming, Portland is going to try and play some exciting basketball. Exciting basketball that will serve as a notice of what is coming.
Hopefully as this team takes advantage of the stretch run to try new things, so too will Terry Stotts take advantage of the opportunity looser games will afford him to go for game winning shots and not game tying shots.
The Blazers have the next two days off before facing the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Rose Garden on Saturday.