What can you do? That’s the question I was left asking myself after Portland wrapped up a 1-3 road trip with a valiant but ultimately futile effort against the Dallas Mavericks. What can you do against one of the best teams in the league, who just happens to have one of the most un-guardable players in NBA history on their roster? You could roll over, like the Blazers looked like they were going to do early in Wednesday’s loss. You could fight, which Portland did late in Wednesday’s loss. But apparently you can’t win.
LaMarcus Aldridge came to play in the final 12 minutes of the night, making up for a forgettable first three quarters, but in the end it was Dirk Nowitzki, the aforementioned holy un-guardable, that had the final say. Oh yeah, and it was the referees. I’m not going to blame this loss on the refs, their an easy target and it’s lazy analysis, but come on. There were simply too many plays late in this game that should have been whistled for fouls. I know that the credo is that refs shouldn’t make a call that is responsible for the outcome of the game, but sometimes it’s the no calls that can be a decider. Portland is struggling, of course, and they shouldn’t look to the referees for favors, but they shouldn’t also have all their hard work undone by missed calls. Andre Miller was fouled, plain and simple, driving to the hoop while trying to cut a two possession game to a one possession game. Blowing that kind of call is simply unacceptable. More so seeing as in the first quarter of the game Joel Przybilla was assessed a technical foul for knocking over a guy that is about the same size as one of his legs while attempting to make a legitimate play on the ball. OK, I’ve said what I have to say about the refs, moving on.
With Wednesday’s loss, Portland falls to 1-7 on the road in its most recent extended trips. This trip wasn’t as bad as the last one, obviously, but three straight losses doesn’t make anybody feel too good. But like the debacle in Memphis, there are some positive takeaways from Wednesday. Actually there are a lot of positive takeaways; if this were a team that would be happy missing the playoffs and winning 30 games, I would even say that they should feel good about the way they fought against a truly stacked team.
The fight is really the most positive thing that comes from this loss. The team is down, people are looking everywhere for answers, and nobody would fault these guys for packing it in and prepping for next season when they’ll all be playing in Europe. But Wednesday Portland showed the first glimmering of heart. They got down against a team that could very easily have run the score up to a 30-point lead, but they didn’t give up. Fourth quarter woes be damned; Wednesday the Blazers outscored the Mavs 59-52 in the second half. Credit Wesley Matthews and LaMarcus for putting the team on their backs in the third and fourth quarters. Like a lot of close games this season, a few things, especially free throws, falling Portland’s way throughout the course of this game, and the Blazers would be leaving big D with a real confidence booster.
The other positive to come out of Wednesday night has more to do with what Portland didn’t do than with what they did do. Or more accurately, how they adjusted to what wasn’t happening. Let me rephrase a third time, and stop jumping around the point. Portland looks like they are beginning to adjust to life without Brandon Roy. Wednesday Roy was non-existent. He attempted only five shots, finishing with four points, and he was never a factor. It hurts me deeply to see Brandon struggling the way he has, especially because of the overall implications for his longevity. Brandon may never get better, and that simply just sucks. B Roy resurrected this franchise, and has provided some of the very best Blazer moments of all time. He’s a world class person, a phenomenal basketball player, and a true fighter. To see him hobbled the way he is makes me almost want to cry. Having said that, his teammates look like they might be ready to move on without him. Wesley Matthews, Aldridge, Miller, and Nicolas Batum provided nearly enough spark to get the job done. Blazer fans are surely lamenting the likely end of the B Roy era, but they have to like the fact that with arguably their best player unable to do anything they came pretty close to pulling out a HUGE win.
The Blazers have had a brutal schedule so far, with Wednesday marking their 16th road game. Many of those games have been against upper echelon teams, there have been more than a few back-to-backs, and there have been lots of weeks in which Portland played four games in five nights. It won’t get any easier, but Friday and Saturday is a home back-to-back, not sure if I’ve ever seen that before, against Minnesota and Golden State. These are teams that Portland should beat, and because they’ll be at home I bet at least one of those games is a blowout. Trading three losses for two wins, like I know I’ve said before, is a losing proposition, but that’s what Portland needs to do now.
A few quick thoughts:
- Wednesday’s fourth quarter was a showcase for LaMarcus Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki. LA is a native of Dallas, played his one year of college ball in Austin, and played, finally, like he wanted to go out and step on somebody’s throat. Unfortunately he was off the mark way too much in the first half. LA finished one off a career high with 35 points. If he could have made some more free throws, and some shots in the first quarter, the Blazer faithful would be sleeping easy, knowing that their other franchise player has finally awoken. As it is, we should be happy to know that LaMarcus has more than 17 points in him. The key is getting him to do it every night.
- Nowitzki matched and one-upped LA in the final period. Portland threw everyone at him; Dante Cunningham, Nicolas Batum, Brandon Roy, even LaMarcus for the final possession that mattered. Nobody could stop him. A face-up shooter that’s seven feet tall just doesn’t make sense. Most nights of the week Dirk is one of my favorite players to watch, but when he plays the Blazers I hate him. Wednesday was a prime example of why this guy is just a cold blooded heart breaker.
- Nicolas Batum had a decent night, coming out of his slump somewhat. The final lineup of the night-Batum, Aldridge, Matthews, Roy, and Miller- isn’t half bad. I would like to see more of that lineup in the middle of the game. Cunningham also had a pretty good night, finding his jumper a little bit. DC needs to have confidence building nights, because every Blazer that sees the court at this point needs to contribute.
- Rudy Fernandez continues to play poorly. There were times when he simply would not shoot. Rudy was 0-of-5, and did absolutely nothing. Give his minutes to Armon Johnson, that’s my suggestion.
- Patty Mills made me cringe a few times, but then did a few things that helped spark the Blazer’s third quarter comeback. He gets out on the break in a hurry, but he has to stop shooting threes. He just isn’t consistent enough from that range. Patty looks pretty good taking the lane and shooting mid-range shots and floaters. He should do more of that.
- I watched the ESPN telecast, and a few quick notes on that. Please let’s not make Aqua Man and thing for Wesley Matthews, and I think Hubie Brown would make a great coach for the Blazers. I think he thinks so too. Also, at the beginning of the season, when Portland was one of the highly touted teams in the Western Conference, oh how the times have changed, the national announcers seemed to talk almost entirely about their opposition. Wednesday Hubie and Jon Barry talked almost exclusively about the Blazers. It reminded me of the days, not so long ago, when Portland was the underdog. This team might to well by themselves to adopt an underdog mentality going forward.