If NBA games were 24 minutes long, the Blazers could be a competitive team. The first half still belonged to the Houston Rockets, but by a much slimmer margin than the game in its entirety. LaMarcus Aldridge started hot with 24 points and 10 rebounds in the first half, after missing a week with a sprained ankle.
Surprisingly, Terry Stotts played him for 40 minutes in this blowout loss. What did he hope to gain from playing LaMarcus well into garbage time? Sure he was the only Blazer to really look good tonight, but that was a whopper of a questionable decision. I don’t care how good LaMarcus is for fan morale, you don’t ride your franchise player into the final minutes of a lost cause when he’s just returned from injury.
That being said, it was great to have LaMarcus back. Even when the Rockets slowed him down in the 2nd half, he made good decisions (something that cannot be said for the rest of the Blazers). He rolled up his sleeves and got to the free throw line in order to stop the clock, fouling out Houston power forward, Greg Smith, in the process. It will be nice to see Portland finish out the season with their leader present.
In a greater sense, their season ended tonight anyway. With this loss, the Portland Trail Blazers have been officially eliminated from playoff contention. Despite the hopes and dreams of many Blazer fans like myself just two weeks ago, this was probably in the cards earlier than most would like to admit. The Trail Blazers have, undeniably, the most difficult schedule to end the regular season. If you felt increasing sprinkles of defeat grace your cheek these last several games, bundle up and prepare for rain, because the worst is yet to come. The Blazers will face the Mavericks, Lakers, Thunder, Nuggets, Clippers, and Warriors in their remaining contests.
They will likely have to do most of this without their glue, and 3rd leading scorer, Nicolas Batum, who has suffered a superior labral tear in his right shoulder. Fortunately, he is anticipated to play again before season’s end, so Rip City can rejoice in the health of their beloved Frenchman. The real question is, can Portland get their act together and win a game, even with Batum?
If they play the way they did tonight, I’d doubt it. Portland’s 6th annual ‘Green Awareness Game’ had more than just environmental implications; well before the final minutes, it became obvious just how young this Portland team really is. The sloppy play was so exasperating, I thought I might lose a lung if I heaved one more sigh. Bad passes, blown buckets, shoddy defense; Portland hit the trifecta.
The most memorable moment tonight was not even part of the game. In the final minutes of the 4th quarter, Jeremy Lin (benched early once the outcome of the game became obvious, as LaMarcus should have been) wandered away from the Rockets’ bench and sat down in a baseline seat that had been vacated by a Portland fan. He was grinning from ear to ear. Something about an opposing player occupying spectator seating upset me, but it was also the perfect metaphor for the game; the Blazers checked out early and the Rockets moved in with ease. It hurt. The only time seats should be empty in the Garden is when fans are on their feet!
Things to take away from this game:
- LaMarcus is our biggest asset from here on out, but he can’t do it alone. All Blazers not named Damian Lillard have been hesitant to penetrate. With the way we’ve been shooting threes lately, everyone should be eager to get to the rim. If they can’t score from the field, they’ve got to earn it on the line.
- You know Portland is desperate when there is a Sasha Pavlovic sighting. Terry Stotts needs to commit to a rotation that he thinks will not only make the most of its minutes, but will gain valuable experience from playing out the season.
- Defense is not a sometimes activity. If the Blazers want to make any sort of stand they have to play every possession.
Portland has slipped into a position where they are unlikely to shift in lottery priority, regardless of winning or losing. They might as well pull together and show their fans that the Rose City will not idly wither.