Game 67: Blazers 95, Bucks 102

Portland certainly has played by a formula this season. I don’t really have to explain that formula, but for posterity’s sake I think I will.

The Blazers this season, more than other seasons that I can remember, have started games slowly, gotten way behind, stayed in the fight long enough to make it interesting (by that I mean keep the broadcasters from falling asleep), and then ultimately failed in their comeback attempts because playing from behind is tough and playing at 85%  for the stretch run is not good enough when the previous three quarters are played at around 25% at best.

The above is how Monday’s game went down. It was how Tuesday’s game went down too. It’s how a lot of games have gone down in 2012-13.

Tuesday, Blazer play-by-play guy Mike Barrett mentioned that Portland has played a lot of close games this season, and for a team with a bad record, they have been blown out a relatively small number of times. MB dropped this bit of trivia on his viewing audience to try and make Blazer fans feel better. Lots of close games, few blow outs, Portland is better than their record, are Barrett’s many implications. Those close losses could be wins next season (or at the end of this season perhaps); all is not lost by losing.

I agree with the sentiment. I agree that the Blazers are probably a little better than their record (a little), and that some of the games they’ve lost this season could have very easily been wins, and that at some point those close losses will in fact be wins.

I don’t entirely agree, though, with the assessment that Portland’s close losses are too be celebrated all that much. The close losses this season have more to do with the Blazers not giving up on games and making frantic late pushes than it does with Portland playing hotly contested matches that tend to not break in the Blazers’ favor.

Close games are different than late comebacks, both Monday and Tuesday were good examples of how. In a close game, there is pressure on both teams to score late. In a comeback, there is pressure only on the team trying to make the comeback. That’s why even an 85% successful effort down the stretch isn’t enough to complete a comeback. It’s basically perfection or bust. Both Monday and Tuesday it was bust.

Tuesday, the Blazers got the score down to eight and then seven within the final two minutes, not really within striking distance, but a far sight better than being down by nearly 30 as Portland was at various points in the game’s second half.

That the Blazers didn’t get a bucket in a whole minute after Wesley Matthews set a new career-high with his seventh three-pointer of the evening at the 1:32 mark of the fourth quarter wasn’t exactly a death blow, but the fact that an 18-footer in the lane from Mike Dunleavy (which came before Wesley’s last three) and a pair of free throws from Brandon Jennings (which came after) were the only scores the Bucks needed in the last two minutes to seal the victory proves it’s a lot easier to win a game when you’re already ahead.

Portland was winning games with late comebacks a month or so ago. When that was happening, the nickname “Cardiac Kids” was being thrown around. That nickname didn’t stick since the Blazers haven’t been winning close games anymore, and in my opinion that’s a good thing. Winning games late makes for good headlines, comebacks keep people interested. Focusing on them, though, can have its downside. Portland needs to figure out how to get engaged early. They need to figure out how to get stops late. And they need a game plan that is a little more nuanced than chuck threes when things go wrong.

At the same time, there’s at least one positive takeaway from the Blazers’ 12-13 formula for losing close games. Portland is refusing to give up. Many young teams hit March with sub .500 records and they give up. The Blazers haven’t done that, at least not yet. This is good not only because it leads to “exciting” comebacks but because it leads to positive development. Playing hard for 48 minutes is a skill that some NBA players have to learn. Portland is learning it this season, even if they’re not winning.

The Blazers have a day off and then continue this road trip in Chicago on Thursday.

Couple of quick things:

  • Luke Babbitt led all players with a +27 when Portland and Milwaukee met at the Rose Garden in January. Babbitt, who has been in and out of the rotation all season and mostly out lately, once again had the Blazers’ highest +/- on Tuesday. Babbitt’s +13 was second only to Ekpe Udoh’s +14, and was the only positive +/- on Portland’s side of the box score above the +1 recorded by LaMarcus Aldridge.
  • I had completely forgotten that J.J. Redick was traded to the Bucks. Milwaukee is two games out of seventh in the Eastern Conference and eight games up on Philly for ninth. The Bucks are pretty close to locked in to a first round sweeping by the Miami Heat. The East is going to be shaken up a bit in the bottom half after this season, even if the top team is going to be the Heat for basically the next 15 years. I’m saying all this because Redick is going to get featured during the Bucks’ four-game playoff run, which will help increase his value if/when he hits unrestricted free agency. I’d love to see Redick in Portland. I expect to see Redick in Miami.

Box Score

Standings

@mikeacker | @ripcityproject | [email protected]

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Tags: Blazers Bucks J.j. Redick

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