Where have all the flowers gone? A long time has passed since the Portland Trail Blazers topped the power rankings league-wide. The once daring underdog that climbed the mountaintop has irrecoverably fallen from the peak. While disappointing, their plummet from the summit is no cause for alarm. It isn’t as if the Trail Blazers are/were favorites to win it all, regardless of Rip City’s Everest aspirations.
The Trail Blazers are still much better than they should be. I know it’s no consolation for losing grip of the unsustainable, but Portland is a playoff team. Let that sink in. That’s all most of us wanted this year. Any playoff team can become a championship team (in theory), but championships are not built around one season of refurbishment. The fact that Portland is fringe-elite represents a tremendous success.
So when the Portland Trail Blazers are blown out by the Charlotte Bobcats (who, make no mistake, are competitive this year), I can’t really mourn properly. In a sense, I am frustrated by the loss – just as they are – but one loss is one loss, no matter how ugly. The Miami Heat lost to the Washington Wizards by 17 points with a healthy LeBron James/Dwayne Wade/Chris Bosh, and the San Antonio Spurs lost to the Phoenix Suns by 21 points (granted, without Parker). I could go on. Every team has ups and downs.
I can forgive the Trail Blazers for losing by 30 on the road without LaMarcus Aldridge, because it was an outlier. If Portland and Charlotte squared off 10 times, it would only happen this once. The Trail Blazers are not suddenly incapable of holding their own, despite what their recent 4-7 record would seemingly indicate. Let’s take a moment to examine the losses during that stretch of games. You’ll feel a little better – I promise.
- Vs. Lakers (March 3rd): The Trail Blazers lost by one point in Aldridge’s 2nd game back from a groin injury. The normally crippled Lakers were able to field 10 players, including newly acquired Kent Bazemore, who has averaged over 13 points per game since being traded from Golden State. Portland probably should have won, but these things happen. Final score: 106-107
- Vs. Mavericks (March 7th): The Trail Blazers began the Texas gauntlet in Dallas, where they lost by 5 points after a heated battle. The game was tied 98-98 with 30 seconds left. Someone had to come out on top. No shame in losing to a good team on their home court. Final score: 98-103
- Vs. Rockets (March 9th): The Trail Blazers lost in overtime to the team with whom they match up worse than any other. Some spotty officiating on both sides kept the game frustrating throughout, and the late game shenanigans of Patrick Beverley prevented Damian Lillard from participating in the extra period. Another close loss to another great team. Final score: 113-108
- Vs. Grizzlies (March 11th): The Trail Blazers struggled against an elite defensive team (shocker). Though the Grizzlies have just now been able to claw their way to eighth seed, they are much better than their record indicates. They are now 24-9 since the return of dominant center Marc Gasol, and the Trail Blazers were not the only high ranking casualty of his regained footing. Final score: 99-109
- Vs. Spurs (March 12th): In the fourth game of a merciless road trip and the 2nd game of a back-to-back the Trail Blazers lost Aldridge to a back injury just after half time. They trailed significantly, but came back to lose by a respectable 13 points to the best team in the NBA. Final score: 90-103
- Vs. Warriors (March 16th): Without Aldridge, once again, the Trail Blazers jumped out to a surprising lead as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson struggled in the first half. The second half was a different story, where Curry and Thompson rained fire on Portland. The ‘Splash Bros’ combined for 64 points, handing the Trail Blazers their 6th loss in two weeks. Final score: 112-113
- Vs. Bobcats (March 22nd): We’ve talked about this.
The way I see it, most of those matchups would be coin flips under neutral circumstances. However; the coin was weighted with either a rusty Aldridge, a missing Aldridge, or playing on the road—sometimes all three. Of course we would like for Portland to persevere, but this is where we circle back to expectations. The Trail Blazers are better than they should be. A single-digit swing would have been enough to switch four of those L’s to W’s. So while, yes, “one loss is one loss,” the implications are less concerning than the empirical tally.
The Trail Blazers will get back on track. Aldridge will miss tomorrow’s matchup with the Miami Heat (who are also struggling, mind you), but should return sooner than later, the schedule will soften shortly after, and the upswing will arrive just as the down did. Just remember that it won’t be a swing to the top. Portland’s time will come, but a healthy balance of realism and optimism will make this season more enjoyable. Adversity is ubiquitous in the NBA, and Portland will only end up where their talent can take them.