This was another ugly game for Portland. The Trail Blazers struggled to control the offensive glass for the 2nd night in a row, giving up numerous second chance opportunities to the Utah Jazz. This opened the door for Al Jefferson to demoralize them at the rim. Big Al finished with a game high 24 points and a game high 10 rebounds, lifting the Jazz over the Blazers on the scoreboard, and the Lakers in the standings.
With LaMarcus still recovering from an ankle injury the Blazers’ defense has suffered in more than just the paint. Without Aldridge’s inside presence, Portland is forced to collapse the lane, leaving perimeter shooters wide open. The shorthanded squad experienced nightmarish flashbacks of Stephen Curry two nights before as Mo Williams sank 6/7 from beyond the arc.
Between Jefferson’s onslaught and Williams’ shooting spree, the Blazers were left visibly scrambling to cover their bases. As long as LaMarcus remains sidelined, Portland opponents need only adopt a “hit ‘em high, hit ‘em low” strategy until the Blazers learn to adapt.
Though Williams’ fire mode was most impressive, it was Damian Lillard who would go down in history last night. With his 167th NBA 3 point field goal, Lillard broke the record for most 3 pointers in a rookie season (previously held by Stephen Curry with 166). Averaging over 2 treys a game with 8 games remaining, the soon-to-be Rookie of the Year may achieve a total that will not be reached again for many seasons to come.
Damian’s milestone aside, I saw some other good things from the Blazers. Portland is widely known for possessing the worst bench in basketball, but last night they weren’t half bad. Eric Maynor (10 points) led a first half run to keep Portland competitive while Lillard got some well deserved rest, and Victor Claver (12 points) scored a career high on 4/5 shooting. This marks just the 3rd time that two Blazer players have scored double digits off the bench in a single game all season, last time being against the Charlotte Bobcats on March 4th.
Unfortunately the increased bench production was not enough to make up for turnovers. Portland has had the toughest schedule down the stretch, they have faced it without their all star, and they are tired. Sloppy play has allowed close games to become runaways right before their eyes. They will need to tighten up if they have any hopes to beat Memphis on Wednesday.
They have not been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but the Blazers would need to win 7 of their 8 remaining games with the Jazz, Lakers, and Mavericks essentially losing out, in order to take the 8th seed. Portland’s season is over. I would obviously prefer to see Portland succeed, but this is one of my favorite times of the year. There is no pressure and we get to watch our young players cram in as much development as possible for the next couple weeks. This is our opportunity to see how far our investments have come, as they grace the court for a few more minutes each night. Sure there will be struggles, but by season’s end we will see who is ready and who is gone.