Mar 14

The Sweet 16

By mikebarrett
If the true stretch run in the NBA season starts after the all-star break, then I'm not sure what to call the final 16 games.  This is especially the case this season as it relates to the Portland Trail Blazers.  This is crunch time, and we're about to learn a lot about where this team is headed, not only concerning this year's playoffs, but perhaps into the distant future.

The last three games are a great example of how quickly things can turn at this time of year.  Even though we know to expect it, the sudden peaks and valleys still take us by surprise.  There are drastic highs, followed by lows, and wild swings of emotion.

And, there are missed opportunities.

That term adequately describes the road trip we just finished.  If someone had offered us a 2-2 record on the trip, before we left, we would have likely jumped all over it.  Heading out on the trip we knew it would take three upsets to return home with a winning record.  The only truly winnable game appeared to be the one in Charlotte.  As it turns out, that's where everything turned.  

I do believe that seasons, or at least stretches of seasons, can be cut down into several moments.  Sometimes you totally control these moments, and other times you can fall victim to bad timing, untimely injuries, or just plain bad luck.  I usually end up chopping seasons up into sections.  Nate McMillan always talks about having a goal of putting together winning records in individual months.  You can divide things further, into winning homestands, or having winning road trips.

Ultimately, you have to mix the good with the bad, try not to get too high or too low, and roll with everything else.

Before we totally turn the page and put the past road trip behind us, it's important to look at a couple of things that happened on the trip.

The Orlando win was very solid, even if it was a victory over a team missing it's star player.  Portland has had to deal with that too much to have to qualify any win over anyone else who is in that situation.  The Miami win was probably the signature win of the season, and I"m sure you'd agree.  Even if the rest of the country focused on Miami's shortcomings, rather than Portland's stellar play, it will go down as one of the great memories of the regular season.

Then came a six-minute stretch in the game at Charlotte.  We knew there was the possibility of a let down in that contest.  After all, Portland had just beaten that team badly at home.  Where a huge opportunity was lost was between the 11-minute mark, and 5-minute mark of the third quarter in that game.  The Bobcats didn't manage a single point during that stretch and the Trail Blazers refused to take a win that was being served up on a silver platter.  They lacked the killer instinct that we saw in Miami, and ended up falling victim to a hot player, and left their fate up to bad bounces, officials calls, and bad luck, when they could have seized the game themselves.

Maybe it sounds too simplistic, but what happened in Atlanta was a direct result of what happened during that stretch in Charlotte.  I firmly believe that had Portland won in Charlotte, they would have won in Atlanta.  What we're left with is a good road trip, that could have been fantastic.  Unfortunately, given what is happening in the Western Conference right now, you're going to need some fantastic to survive. 

It doesn't do much good to live in the past, and that leads us to the current task at hand.  There are 16 games to go. 

Starting Tuesday night, it's a huge three-game home stand, that starts against one of the hottest teams in the NBA- the Dallas Mavericks.  Then, it's Cleveland and Philadelphia.  A loss to Dallas right now is nothing to be ashamed of, so that puts the pressure on the other two games.

You simply can't slip again at home in a game you're suppose to win.  Especially in these two games.  Why?  Because next Sunday night we'll be in L.A. to take on the Lakers.  That's how it is right now.  Every single game is linked directly to the next game.  Kind of like how Charlotte was linked to Atlanta. 

Looking past that, it's home games against Washington and San Antonio.  Then, a three-game road trip to Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and New Orleans.  Yeesh. 

The good news is there are 10 home games left, and only 6 on the road.  The bad news is, despite that, the Trail Blazers have one of the most difficult remaining schedules of the teams in this jogjam in the west.

Realistically, the best Portland can hope to finish in the west is 5th.  The scary backside of that is that, right now, this team is only 3 games clear of not being in the playoffs at all.  Had they won in Charlotte and Atlanta?  Well, it doesn't make any sense to go there, so I won't (okay- they'd be tied with Denver in 5th).  

It's Trail Blazers Courtside tonight, on trailblazers.com, Comcast Sportsnet, and the Trail Blazers Radio Network.  We'll be joined by Nate McMillan, Nic Batum, Greg Oden, and others.  Join us from 6pm to 8.

Previous Story: Blazers Give One Back


  1. Mike:

    Great insight of the last 16 games. I am not concerned with our 2 losses as they were away games and we had already lucked out on two wins. The luck goddess evened everything out.

    I still think we will end up in seventh spot ahead of Memphis. But think we will still end up playing the Lakers as I think they will by pass the Mavs. Maybe by us winning tomorrow night. Whether it is tomorrow night or later, I think the Lakers will end up in the second seed.

    It is scary time for us, but we are resilient and can stick together.

    Thank you for the post. I can't watch courtside because I will be working, but maybe I can catch the transcript of it.

    by Hg on 3/14/2011 10:07 AM
  2. I like the pick up of Chris Johnson. I thought they should have signed him to a second 10 day contract. His skills and athletecism is much greater than Collins. The one thing he lack is the size (wght) to keep big centers from pushing him around. This may let us play Wallace more at his natural position. Hopefully with a chance for a little rest LMA will start being the monster we saw for a while instead of the fadeaway jump shooter we've seen the last week.

    by Ancientone on 3/14/2011 11:05 AM
  3. Well, we all got the giddiness knocked out of us quickly, didn't we? We beat the annointed kings, so we had it together and were ready to roll, only, whoops, not so fast.
    Now we've got a team that looks lost. Nate found it necessary to play Collins for over 5 minutes against Atlanta. He was on the floor contributing to the disastrous final seconds of the first quarter. I stress this because we're still trying to plug the hole left by the absence of Joel and Dante, as our latest signing indicates. Gerald Wallace--who contributed another four turnovers in Atlanta--just isn't a power forward. We've got a bunch of guys who play the same positions whose minutes go up and down depending on the situation, their production, and Nate's feelings. Sometimes it all works out, the missings bigs aren't needed, we have a killer second unit, and the team looks invincible. But then the shots stop falling, and everyone starts pressing, and the lack of time with these combinations playing together creates doubt and confusion. LaMarcus had bad games in the two losses, and we have to trust that he's not worn down from the heavy minutes and/or confused by the changes to the team. My hope is that we'll recapture the poise and confidence we showed in Florida. My fear is that we'll continue to blow hot and cold, entering the stretch drive of the playoff race still working out roles and trying to recapture the pre-trade tightness. We can't afford to let key games keep slipping away, but at the moment we still don't know what this team has. Will the many good teams we face in late March exploit our thin front line, or will our high-energy small team throw them off stride and lead us to victory? I guess we'll find out pretty soon. I'd like to think we can bounce back with a good game against Dallas, because we really have no idea what another bad loss, even in a game people expect us to lose, might do to this team's confidence. I sure hope it turns around quickly. I was as sorely tempted as I've ever been to just turn off the set and walk away in the the fourth quarter in Atlanta.

    by Islander on 3/14/2011 11:23 AM
  4. The loss in Charlotte hurt. We were on a win - high and that was a big let down but as you said, Mike, to be expected. I still maintain that this is one of my favorite Blazer seasons, as manic as it's been. It's shown the true character of our team and we've got it in us to grow and Win Big!
    See you all on the 12th. One more Blazer game this season...:-)

    by kaemicha on 3/14/2011 11:41 AM
  5. as i listened to the game saturday night, Wheels said something about three or four times in the second half and post-game show which is abundantly clear: atlanta matches up better with portland than any other team in the league. we say that the first game and we saw that on saturday.

    true, our shooting was woeful and our efforts were not up to par. however, we just can't match up against the hawks very well. even without their leading rebounder, they destroyed us on the boards. with guys like Marcus, LaMarcus and Gerald, there's no way that should happen.

    MB, i do agree with you that the loss in charlotte led to the loss in atlanta. that's about the only explanation for coming out with a lack of enthusiasm like we did. it didn't sound pretty over the radio. in person, it had to be distressing.

    i don't think you can blame the game on one player. yes, Jarron was ineffective. but so were a lot of the guys. where was the defense on Teague? he's a borderline third stringer who we helped make look like the best player to ever pick up a basketball. i know one of the strategies is to not let the all-star beat you, but when a young guy like that is getting the better of his matchup, it's time to change something.

    Wesley had a good second half, and Gerald grabbed 12 rebounds for the game, but there really weren't too many other bright spots.

    we were definitely on a high from the miami win -- and we should have been -- but we all know enough about this league to know that we can be beaten any given night if we don't play our best game out there. we failed to come close for two straight nights, and i'm not real confident about this one coming up.

    could a loss to dallas be palatable? perhaps, if it's close. but i don't really want close losses. i want wins. in the past month and a half, we've beaten san antonio, chicago, orlando and miami. we can and should beat dallas.

    perhaps then, as you said, MB, that will carry over to the next game over cleveland.

    ~ Kassandra

    by Kassandra on 3/14/2011 12:48 PM
  6. Ancientone: i too like the call up of Chris Johnson (i even wrote a blog about it). i'm not sure we shouldn't keep Jarron for the rest of the season as well. then again, i hear Sean Marks might be available again soon.

    ~ Kassandra

    by Kassandra on 3/14/2011 12:50 PM

  7. sean marks could be available by the next dallas game on april 3rd. we'll see how things work out, but they may have grabbed johnson so that they can let collins go before getting marks again. we'll see...

    tomorrow it'll be fun to see dirk have to deal with batum, wallace & aldridge. he's good, but he ain't that good. if he scores a bunch they're almost certain to lose going that route. somebody else (wesley, rudy...) needs to stay in j. terry's jersey.

    by reverse on 3/14/2011 1:24 PM
  8. I was Joel back, but thats not going to happen right now, so I guess Johnson will be nice. Hopefully we can win against Dallas, yeah screw the close losses, who wants that? We need wins.

    Well just have to see..Were a good team right now, just inconsistent. We have the ABILITY to beat the best teams, but we also can lose very quickly. That type of play can usually get us in the playoffs, and Iam confident that we will atleast get in. BUT if we have any chance to move on to the 2nd round, we cant half @ss it couple of games, and then play our best in the rest, we got to be on our A game every game. Go Blazers.

    by whitefeather21380 on 3/14/2011 2:12 PM
  9. Well said Mike. Every game is crucial. They can't afford any more let down games like the one they had in Charlotte. This is the stretch run of the season and they need all the momentum they need going in the play-offs. If they want to get out of the first round, they have to start playing with a purpose right now!

    by blazerdarren77 on 3/14/2011 3:16 PM
  10. My biggest concern is we'll play well against the Mavs, but lose and that loss will carry over to the next couple games,,,,

    by mgb on 3/14/2011 7:07 PM
  11. Well, I'm confident we'll hit the playoffs, but Denver again won, an I want 5th seed. If not, I'd rather have 8th. This game is a test, and the Blazers need to ace it. My only concern is what mgb said, but the other way around. I'm a bit concerned that if we have an emotional win against the Mavs, we'll play it lightly the next two games because the team worries about the Laker game. That's the problem with this team. They think they need to play their best against the best, and overlook the "easy" teams. It's why I'm kind of glad we have a tough schedule, because I know we'll bring it against the Mavs, Lakers, and every team left in the schedule. It also prepares the team for the playoffs. Ending the season easily isn't going to get you ready.

    The Blazers need help from their bench. And I believe Roy and Wallace need to get into the starting roles. Most players, along with those two, aren't effective coming off the bench. Look at Wesley at the start of the season.

    by Herr on 3/14/2011 7:40 PM
  12. Okay, Herr, but if Roy starts that puts Wesley on the bench, where, as you point out, he wasn't effective. Do you really want to start games depending on the game-by-game experiment of Brandon's attempt to regain form? And if Wallace is starting, how do you manage the rotation to get him those minutes he's been putting in at power forward? Also, you put in two guys who are not three-point shooters--Gerald and Andre--on a starting unit that needs to swing the ball for an open three when the other team doubles LaMarcus. One final note. The team has now had a few games to get used to the new roster in its current combinations. Do you really want to ask these guys to get used to yet another arrangement in the middle of crunch time? How about we at least give Wallace time to learn all the plays? Roy and Wallace have seemed fine to me in their roles coming off the bench. I think the main argument for starting those guys is "they're big stars and deserve to start," and that's a dangerous route to take.

    by Islander on 3/14/2011 10:46 PM
  13. My $0.02 thoughts on who should start. With Chis Johnson, already knowing our plays can cut time off from LMA. When Crash goes in at four and LMA at the 5, we are playing small ball and sacrifice rebounds. It was brought up by Vinnie that Crash should start at the 3 in place of Batum because of his aggressiveness and killer instinct. I would have to agree with that in the extent of scoring and fast tempo of the first unit. I like BRoy in the second unit because of his limited time and movement on the floor.

    The only thing is, if Crash starts at the three and BRoy comes in at the 2 instead of the 3 then that would really cut into Rudy's time. Except for the times we go small ball. Then it is Mills, Rudy, BRoy, Crash and LMA, which is a pretty good unit, since Nate usually uses the three as a spot up 3pt shooter, and that would leave Crash free to crash the boards.

    The starting unit of Dre, Wesley, Crash, LMA and Camby, would give LMA more space because Crash and Wesley are more aggressive at cutting to the basket then Batum is. Batum will still get about the same amount of burn time and point production playing in the second unit with Mills and BRoy and use CJ for short period at the 4 with LMA at the 5, since Nate likes LMA at the 5. I would like to see LMA at the 5 when we wasn't playing small ball and losing rebounding because of lack of height.

    Oh well, there is so many options with CJ as the new Blazer that it becomes mind bogging, I can see both points of the debate between Herr and Islander, I have to agree with Islander about changing the starting line-up to much this close to the end of the season, since BRoy and Crash can play just as well together on the 2nd unit. BRoy and Batum could play just as well in the 2nd unit with few minutes if Batum's ankle is still bothering him.

    OK so I am trying to stretch my 2 cents worth into a $.


    by Hg on 3/15/2011 4:27 AM
  14. Portland is my team. GO BLAZERS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    by mbmurr1 on 3/18/2011 9:00 PM
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