It was another tough night in Rip City as the Blazers extended their losing streak to 6. Portland was without LaMarcus Aldridge for the 4th consecutive game, but it was the absence of small forward, Nicolas Batum, that sucked the wind from their sails. The spiraling Blazers were absolutely embarrassed by the Grizzlies in a night of obvious mismatches and unrelenting Memphis defense.
First of all, this was not unexpected. When you start 3 rookies against a team of hardened veterans, you’re going to run into problems. Especially when they recognize your propensity for turnovers. Memphis is one of the best defensive teams in the league and it quickly became apparent that Portland was in for a rough go, as the Grizzlies had a field day in the passing lanes.
The concerning thing is that Portland did very little right. They couldn’t get stops, they couldn’t get drops, and they failed to execute the pick and roll. Most casual players are familiar with that guy playing pickup games at the local park that can’t break the defense and decides to give up and shoot 3s. Heck, sometimes it’s me! But last night it was the entire Portland team. Unfortunately, the textbook perimeter defense of Mike Conley, Tony Allen, and Tayshaun Prince proved to be too much for Portland anyway. The Blazers shot a dismal 4/29 (13.8%) from downtown in their worst 3 point display of the season since shooting 2/17 against the New Orleans Hornets on February 13th.
It didn’t help that the Grizzlies have something more to play for. The 20 point Mike Conley offensive was fueled by hopes for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, while Portland was simply trying to stem the bleeding. When it came right down to it, Memphis was bigger, faster, stronger, and they wanted it more.
So what does this loss mean for Portland? Well, they could technically make the playoffs in the same way a tortoise could technically beat a hare in a footrace, but this is no fable. There is no storybook ending where streamers dance gracefully from the rafters as if time were a dream, and Mike Barrett’s voice rings through the pure electricity of the Rose Garden Arena to announce a playoff berth. And that is OK. Portland was never supposed to get this far. The young squad will give what they have left in these next 7 games, then lick their wounds and come back stronger in the fall.
In the meantime, watch for a last minute developmental push from the rooks and hope they escape déjà vu on Friday. With any luck LaMarcus will be ready to go by then. Regrettably, Batum seems improbable at this point. The remainder of his season is up in the air until we know more about his shoulder injury. If he does not return, Victor Claver will likely remain in the starting role.