It’s going to be easy to see 2012-13 as a failure, if your a Blazer fan. Portland hasn’t been competitive on the road, they’ve lost too many games they should have won, and they’ve basically squandered their good luck and good play by being consistently dragged down by inconsistency.
I’d like to posit that thinking in that way could be harmful to your health. Furthermore, I’d like to advocate for thinking like this instead: the Blazers are not great this season, but they’re also not the Charlotte Bobcats.
Not that the Bobcats were that downright awful on Monday, because in a lot of ways they weren’t, but the simple fact that Charlotte is stuck on 13 wins, hasn’t won in seven games, and managed to get absolutely blown out in Portland while still shooting 46% from the field should make Blazer fans feel that at the very least things could be a whole lot worse.
The bunnies left on the schedule are few and far between at this point for the Blazers, Portland’s final month and a half of the season includes only three games against teams with below .500 records, so beating the Timberwolves and the Bobcats on successive nights was both nice and an absolute necessity. Getting wins going forward is a tall order. Losing to the worst team in the league wouldn’t have killed the already dead post season plans, but it would have been pretty demoralizing.
Outside of just getting a win, Monday night, Blazer fans should feel pretty good that for one of the few times this season Portland took care of business. Even against bad teams, the Blazers have had to fight for almost every win of 2012-13. Not so on Monday.
Against the Bobcats, Portland shot 50% from three and a pretty outstanding 60% from the field. The Blazers got easy looks, and they converted those easy looks. Getting good shots and making those shots usually leads to easy wins. And that’s what Portland got Monday.
And because the Blazers got a very rare easy win, they got a chance to give some extended minutes to a few guys that, if Terry Stotts can get right with reality, should be playing a little bit more as the season winds down. Meyers Leonard had his best game, probably, as a pro. Eric Maynor proved once again how big of an asset he could be going forward. And Victor Claver is continuing to show that he’s made the ever important transition from garbage time mop-up guy to serviceable back-up.
Claver specifically has blossomed in the last few weeks, a beneficiary of more minutes and the abandonment of the Luke Babbitt as stretch-four leitmotif. Monday was Victor’s seven straight game with at least 13 minutes of playing time, an indication that he’s become a staple of the rotation. He is still making mistakes, but a large number of those mistakes come from that fact that he’s still a rookie. His shot selection is improving every night, as is his confidence with shooting the ball.
Claver understands the game, he’s a great passer and doesn’t make the kind of bone headed mistakes other rookies make when they’re trying to figure out where to stand, when to cut, and how to operate within a professional offense. Shooting is going to be the X-factor for Vic. Rudy Fernandez made his NBA career (short as it was) by being a shooter. Claver won’t probably reach Rudy’s level as a marksman, but his size and athletic ability raises his ceiling to above where Fernandez’s probably was.
Victor has been steady for awhile, but if game balls are awarded for beating bad teams in meaningless games, Monday’s would have gone to Meyers Leonard. His 15 points were a career (or season) high. His six rebounds were not nearly as impressive as the 14 grabbed by LaMarcus Aldridge, but by playing 20 minutes for the second game in a row while picking up only three fouls and turning the ball over only one time, Meyers has shown that he belongs on the court.
The secret, I think, for Leonard is getting high percentage shots early in his first shift. And by high percentage shots, I mean dunks. For the second game in a row Leonard shot over 80% from the field, meaning that the majority of his looks were at the rim. Meyers can dunk. His dunks gets the home crowd going, and they get him going. When Meyers is engaged early, it’s likely that he won’t fade down the stretch. There are going to be some tough games coming up to close this season, if Meyers wants to maximize what’s left of his rookie campaign, he needs to be on the floor late against guys like Brook Lopez, Kendrick Perkins, Tyson Chandler, and Dwight Howard.
Portland closes a four-game home stand with three wins and a loss. The only loss came to the Denver Nuggets, and you take a loss to the Nuggets if you can swap it for a win against the Boston Celtics, at least I do. The Blazers head out on the road for their next three. Portland is 8-21 away from home. Winning on the road is going to be something this team needs to figure out in the coming seasons. This trip is going to be rough. One win would be nice, two would be OUTSTANDING.
A win-less trip doesn’t kill the Blazers’ playoff hopes only because they are already dead. Just like losing to the Bobcats would have been, going 0-3 over the next week will be pretty demoralizing.
Portland starts their trip Wednesday in Memphis.
Couple of quick things:
- Nicolas Batum and Meyers Leonard connected on an off-the-backboard alley-oop in the first quarter that pleased the RG fans while not impressing Portland’s head coach. Stotts said that he didn’t like guys messing with the game, at least not in the first quarter. I don’t know everything about every NBA coach out there, but I do feel like Stotts might be a players coach. At least there has been very little contention between the Blazers and their head coach as far as I can tell. As for Nicolas Batum, he was apologetic for his momentary lapse in judgement (deciding to toss the ball off the glass to a trailing Leonard instead of just converting an easy lay-up), and thanked Leonard for finishing the play.
- And speaking of Leonard, for probably only the second or third time this season, Meyers had to face down a mob of television reporters in the Blazers’ locker room. Being asked questions for TV about the game as a whole is comes with playing well. Meyers handled himself well. He’ll be fine in the spotlight.
- And as for Stotts, he fielded his first ever “why did you leave the starters in at the end of a blowout?” question. Like an old pro, Stotts went all Nate McMillan with the standard “I was trying to win the game,” answer. Monday was really a first on a lot of fronts.