Jan 15

Missed Opportunity in Houston

By mikebarrett
Not only do I have a lot of notes in front me during games, along with a detailed storyboard of facts, stats, and trends, I tend to scribble a lot of little things down.  For whatever reason, I use a little column on the left side of my sheet to list big, or game-changing situations.  It's usually just the time of the game, the score, and maybe a player's name. 

After a game ends, I usually notice that I have written down some stuff that I can't make out, or things that seemed important at the time, but turned not to be a big factor in the outcome.  Mostly though, I'll note key possessions, and key shots, made or missed.  In other words, it's kind of my area to keep track of opportunities.
I only bring this up because as soon as the game ended in Houston on Saturday night, I noticed that I had written down A LOT in this column, and not much of it was good.  There were so many opportunities, and big moments in this game, where the Blazers came up short.  If you simply get beaten by a better team, or get out-executed in a game, that's actually easier to live with.  This was not one of those nights.

While it's true that the Rockets had some great individual performances, this was Portland's game to win or lose.  Little things that needed to happen, happened.  Luis Scola and Samuel Dalembert got into foul trouble and weren't big factors, and Kevin Martin, who always plays well against the Blazers, didn't have a good shooting night.  Yes, Kyle Lowry was terrific, but the Blazers should have been able to absorb that and still win.

Houston was able to grab a 14-point lead in this game, and it was definitely a positive that the Blazers were able to battle back and take a lead.  But, there were many chances for Portland to drop the hammer and simply put this game away.  I had at least nine of these possessions jotted down on my sheet, and there were probably others that I didn't write down.

We know that so much of this game is mental, and confidence is such a huge factor.  Yes, the Blazers are still learning one another, and they did have to go into this game for the first time this season knowing they wouldn't have Marcus Camby in the lineup.  But, Nicolas Batum and Craig Smith were so good off the bench, it should have made up the difference and then some.

Batum, who has needed to get more aggressive and have more of a take-charge attitude, came through with flying colors against the Rockets.  I'm not even talking about his scoring, because a lot of that was a result of him getting red hot from long range.  You're not going to get that from him every night, so that's a bit out of his control.  I'm talking about his defense, and his willingness to put the offense on his shoulders.  He was brilliant in those catagories.  Nic's four blocked shots were incredible.  Every one one his four were highlight-quality stuff.

I realize one of the hot topics after the game, and something frustrating to a lot of you, was that as hot as Batum was, Portland stopped going to him in the second half of the fourth quarter and overtime.  He took only one shot from 6:52 in the 4th on, and that was in the final seconds of OT.  Honestly, some of this is on him, and some of it is on his teammates.  It's up to Nic to make sure he becomes a consistent go-to guy, and once he does that the team will look to him in the clutch.  The fact of the matter is that he hasn't proven that he wants the ball in late-game situations.  I think he could be, and should be, one of those guys on this team.  I also think that will happen.  He's just too good.  Remember, he's only 23.

Craig Smith has been terrific, and absolutely carried this team during a stretch when the Rockets were threatening to build a very big lead.  Smith punished the Rockets inside, and ended up with 11 points on 4 of 5 shooting.  He played only 16 minutes, but will be counted on more if he shows this kind of desire.

As frustrating as this loss was it has to be remembered that we're still early, and this was, afterall, the Texas two-step.  It's never easy to win in San Antonio and Houston.  And, as I said above, this team is still figuring itself out.  But, I also recall a road trip early in the season last year, where the Trail Blazers gave a few games away and ended up regretting it the rest of the season.  Let's hope they remember that and use it as movitvation as we continue on this trip.

They had so much confidence flowing as they got off to that 7-2 start, and put together some impressive wins.  Let's hope they can get that back, and learn to seize opportunties late in games.  I want players to demand the ball in crunch time and want to pull the trigger with the clock running down.  That's all attitude, and the Blazers need to get that back.


  1. hey MB, once we got back into it, then took a 3-point lead late in the fourth quarter, we could have put a couple of nails in the coffin. we failed to do so. it's like you said; missed opportunities.

    in my own blog, i highlighted Nicolas and Craig's games because, well, both played incredibly well.

    i'm stuck on the point about Nicolas not receiving the ball in the last 12 minutes in the game. Nate's post-game comments even said that Nicolas wasn't open or that the pick and roll had been working for us. well, how can something be working if it doesn't put you over the top in the last two minutes of the game. there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that sets could have been drawn for Nicolas rather than have him stand in the corner and wait for the ball as the third or fourth option. it's frustrating and it happened for 12 minutes. one of the biggest criticisms i've had during the entire time i've been following the blazers is that when we have a hot guy, we seem to stop giving him the ball. coaches and players have come and gone, but that seems a constant which has remained. other teams don't do that but, for some reason, we do.

    i continually am impressed by Craig. the Rhino was absolutely impressive in that second quarter. like you, i anticipate him getting some more minutes (especially with Marcus out). i can't imagine that he hasn't earned them. did you realize it was Kevin McHale who gave him that "Rhino" nickname when they were both with minnesota? great story. Craig is a guy i definitely think we can use more of. he has a different style than LaMarcus, but i don't have any worries when he comes in to spell LaMarcus because i know Craig is going to punish people on both ends of the court.

    i have a bone to pick with some of the guys -- dunk the ball instead of shooting layups! i'm not talking about the showboating-type of dunk; just the simple make-sure-the-ball-goes-into-the-basket type of dunk.

    this game was definitely winnable. looking forward to monday's game against the hornets.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 1/15/2012 10:31 AM
  2. I totally agree with you on the dunks. It would be easier to swallow some of the failed fast-break attempts if someone was looking to forcefully slam a ball down. It's not only a more effective way to finish, it can be a statement. This team is trying to run, and you're going to get some turnovers as you tweak your system. But, there were some very costly unfinished fast-break situations last night.

    by mikebarrett on 1/15/2012 10:36 AM
  3. VERY disappointed to say the least. Honestly..in the last couple years how many MB blogs or nightly recaps have we seen the summary of a "missed opportunity"? It seems like way to many. This team is a very "talented" team..but they dont get it done when it counts way to often. Is there games that we do? Yes of course..but not nearly as often as it should. LA missed little finger rolls about 1 foot from the basket 3 times. And YES!! why did we not go to Nick in the 4th??? I was in the living room asking myself that about 6 times. Why?? Why...feed that hot hand!...Here Iam..not a nba player...not a nba coach...and yet my basketball common sense says, go back to the player who was making the shots and giving you the lead..reward Batum!

    But nope instead...we watched Crawford and Felton put up 3ball misses. We watched Mathews put up circus shots..and they simply shot themselves in the foot...over...and over again. Disgusting. Well all I can is we have ALONG ways to go!...we are not a elite team..we are not a top 5 team. We are not as good as OKC. Can we be?...are we "capable" of being elite?? Heck yes..tons of talent on this team and we have already beat some darn good teams this year.

    BUT..really good teams...elite teams...they win no matter what..they find ways to win..sure you lose..everyone loses..but give a elite team a chance to win...and they will gobble it up like icecream. Until we become more consistent, that will not happen. I dont know if thats on the players..or its on the coaching style..I dont know. Who decided not to go back to Batum? Why not take the ball to the rim..score..or get a foul...who continues to voice that when in doubt...when were losing..when we have a chance to comeback...lets just shoot up hopeless jumpers? who??....I dont have a answer...but we need to start playing smart basketball..or this is going to be a long season.

    by whitefeather21380 on 1/15/2012 10:43 AM
  4. Hey Mike: great to hear from you. The BlazerNation needs a pump up. It is so depressing to see the same thing game after game, different circumstances, but even when we win, we don't have that killer instinct. We have had almost every game except the Phoenix game where we not only could have won, but could have opened up a big gap, but instead we let the opponents get back into the game by one of many mistakes.

    I usually don't get down to much because I love the Blazers that much. But Kassandra brought up the fact that there is something broken in the teams make up, and I agree with her. I don't know what it is, but you can see it. Of course the big thing is inconsistency but it seems like they are all scared animals corralled in a pen that wants out.
    I think what ever it is it is fixable, and maybe it is like you said, they haven't gelled yet. I know losing Camby is bad, but we can't depend on one player that much to get rebounds.

    by Hg on 1/15/2012 11:10 AM
  5. Winnable game for sure. Nate is my man but the play calling down the stretch was confusing. Perhaps it is due to the lack of practice time. There should be one go to play for each player depending on who's hot. Didn't see that last night. Nate seems to be stuck on get the ball to Crawford. Yes, every team is in the same boat with practice time.
    Rhino is a stud. I hope Batum continues his roll.
    Haven't seen the box score yet but it is my guess we got out rebounded.
    On to Charlotte. Gerald, Felton should play well. Nic keep it going.

    by Divotking on 1/15/2012 11:23 AM
  6. This is a type of game that drives me nuts. Every time they forced a turnover, they would give it right back with a turnover of their own. to put it simply; THEY BLEW IT! C'mon guys, get it together!

    by blazerdarren77 on 1/15/2012 3:33 PM
  7. I've wondered the same as Kass about these baby layups we're missing. I keep saying to Pat (spouse), "How can a guy 6'-8" or more not just rise up and dunk the #@$&*% ball!" I can think of two reasons: (1) in the heat of the moment, we tend to do what usually do in any situation; (2) when bigs bring the ball down too far to gather themselves for a dunk, they often get stripped of the ball. To fix (1), maybe they should spend some time in practice on a dunk drill tailored to that situation. Form the habit and it might pay off.

    by dgpdx on 1/15/2012 4:30 PM
  8. On ignoring Batum late in games: Several times in the last minutes at Houston, and many other games also, the offense sets up in their usual pattern, and Nic's spot is in a corner. 90% of the time, the point guard sets up a two-man game with LA and Nic is left alone on the weak side. Once that happens, he rarely sees the ball in that possession. We need to swing the ball more to get him more touches, or run him off a down pick for that elbow curl shot he's so good at.

    When LA gets the rock, he tends to hesitate a couple seconds before making a move which gives the defense time to reset (I mentioned this last season too). LA needs to make quicker decisions. He's been hesitating even more this year on taking his bread-and-butter 18-22' shot. I know the team wants to be unselfish, but this is taking it too far. He's the go-to-guy, he needs to be more decisive!

    by dgpdx on 1/15/2012 4:27 PM
  9. dgpdx;
    I agree on two points. I like that elbow curl play to Batum.
    The first 3 games of the year at home, LA was going as soon as the post pass came in. He appears to be hesitating now.

    by Divotking on 1/15/2012 5:45 PM
  10. MB,

    Whether or not all your notes are 'meaningful to the outcome of the game' doesn't matter too much. It's the fact that you really know the game, and love your job enough. It shows and we enjoy the effort you make to break things down for us, the fans who don't have courtside seats. Thank you

    It was a game we could have had. As you mentioned, Lowry played his butt off. Scola and Martin had off nights but they knocked them down when the counted (ie Martin's layup at the end and his free throws, Scola had a close in rimmer in there somewhere I think...) Houston is a tough crowd. I am sure McHale is a good coach. But the fact we were in there and the game did all but tell the Blazers 'take me,' is encouraging. We miss Camby but Batum's numbers were encouraging.

    Nic Batum has the build of a Clyde Drexler, a Scottie Pippen. He's capable and gifted. His blocks were terrific. I only hope we can find the groove and the chemistry here. He does have a lot of potential, and playing for a contract, we love seeing it. Hope we get it as often as possible to get us on the winning side of things. He needs minutes and the same could be said for so many Blazers: Crawford is one example, that is, if we are to see games like this.

    I think this loss had encouraging moments (much of it was Nic) but at the same time, at 3 in a row, morale victories are obsolete. However, one win can get this team's confidence back. It take one game to end the slide. One tough road win. I am concerned about fatigue but I believe in the players and the staff, that they will get through it.

    If we can make mistakes and hand a game over, then surely there will come a time when when get our shot at redemption and the ball will bounce our way; those close shots and layups will fall, and those passes will find their mark. Houston was on it last night.

    We appreciate those notes. It's a credit to fans becoming more knowledgeable about the game we enjoy.

    One game baby, when will it be? Wanna see a smile on Coach and the players face.

    Everyone have a great night.

    by Bull Frog on 1/15/2012 7:30 PM
  11. Dang, Bull Frog, that was very nice of you. Sitting here at a desk in my hotel room in New Orleans, preparing for tomorrow's game, and comments like that make it all worth while. Thanks very much.


    by mikebarrett on 1/15/2012 7:41 PM
  12. @Divotking: I'm glad not to be the only one noticing those things. I also noticed Nate seemed a little defensive in an interview when asked about Batum not getting more shots down the stretch and in overtime. He said the two-man game with LA was getting good shots. This was true -- but the hottest shooter on the team wasn't the one taking them...

    by dgpdx on 1/15/2012 7:50 PM
  13. More concerning ignoring Batum late: Many years go (it almost seems like a former life) I lived in LA and recall a Laker PF named Rudy LaRusso. I lost count of the number of times Rudy led the team in scoring in the first quarter only to never see the ball again unless he got a rebound. The attitude seemed to be, "Thanks for the start Rudy, but Mr. Baylor (Elgin) and Mr. West (Jerry) will take it from here."

    That team usually won those games, so it's hard to argue against that strategy. But when your team is losing games like that -- well, I'm just sayin'...

    by dgpdx on 1/15/2012 8:03 PM
  14. I'm with dgpdx on LA's hesitancy this season. He pretty much overcame that tendency last year, but now seems more uncertain than ever what he wants to do. You can see on his post-ups that he wants to look for the double-team before deciding what to do, instead of making a first move and then reacting if the double comes. The back-and-forth passes with the guard on his side in that situation have often been unproductive and frustrating.
    Also frustrating has been the downside of Gerald Wallace, the poor outside shooting, the erratic passing, the out-of-control rushes into traffic. And, of course, there's the steady stream of bad shots thrown up by Jamaal Crawford.
    I wonder what will happen if this team continues its losing ways on this road trip. The current team is no longer so heavy on young talent as the one a couple of years back. Once it becomes apparent that there's no championship run in the offing for the next couple of years, the team has to make some hard decisions. LaMarcus, Wesley, and Nic are the young-talent core we need to build around. Raymond still has a chance to prove he deserves to stick around, but he's got a long way to go. Everyone else, except the guys now warming the bench, are too old for us to count on down the road. I think I could be persuaded that the aborted Gerald-for-draft choices is our best bet. We need to find another big man who's not one bad landing from retirement. We need to give Nic his minutes, which is hard with Gerald playing ahead of him. Wesley seems to have taken a step backward too, and I suspect that Crawford's presence has hurt him.
    Now it may be that the current problems are mostly a result of the short pre-season, the challenge of integrating so many new players while trying to get everyone into shape. But the problem of not seeming to have a clear scoring plan down the stretch has been there ever since Brandon started missing games, and we need to figure this out quickly. The other night when Hedo beat us with two killer plays late in the game, I doubt that Orlando was saying in the huddle "Just let Turkolu take over." But when he saw the opportunity, he made the play. Too many Blazers seem unsure about what they should do in that situation. The team has always seemed too tight in crunch time. Crawford was supposed to be the solution to that problem, but it's clear that a willingness to throw up the awkward three that's available after the offense has bogged down is really not enough. I'd add one more reason to set things up so that Nic Batum touches the ball on each trip down, instead of just lurking in the corner and hoping the team remembers to swing it around to him. He's the best passer on the team, the likeliest to find the right team-mate, and the least likely to throw the ball away. I'd like to see an offense structured to use that talent.

    by Islander on 1/15/2012 8:09 PM
  15. @islander: You make a great point about Turkoglu taking the initiative when the opportunity is there. There are times when a player just has to grab the ball and do the right thing.

    Agreed about Wallace's outside shooting too. I pointed out last year that 3-point shooting is not what we need from him. We need him closer to the paint. Granted he's made a couple of clutch 3s this season, but he's a 30%-er at best from long range. Same goes for Felton.

    We have three players who should be shooting in-rhythm, open 3s whenever they get the chance: Batum, Mathews, and Crawford (and maybe Nolan Smith too). Jamal hasn't hit his stride yet but, given his history, he should keep trying, when he's in rhythm.

    by dgpdx on 1/15/2012 8:37 PM
  16. MB,

    My favorite place to break down a game is on the Blazer Blog network and listening to you & Rice. Anytime, you got it. Thank you!

    by Bull Frog on 1/15/2012 8:41 PM
  17. slander, you hit it on the head with aldridge. he's not always taking the bull by the horns and seems to wait and see too much. i think his game is great and he's doing good things but i'd like to see that next gear, like last year, where he puts his head down and goes to town. we've got a great team with a lot of talent but what we're missing is that guy that takes over when it's time. la is that guy and he needs to step up to the plate and not worry about selfishness. he's our bread and butter and he's the guy that needs to take care of business. sometimes he needs to just say, it's my to go to work.

    and like you've all said, blazers failed to ride the hot hand. that falls on the whole team, including batum and mcmillan.

    i think thw thing we're missing is a definitive leader taking charge and that's on aldridge. there are games when the leader needs to take charge. aldridge needs to take charge. he's no young buck so he should know this. this is his team and he needs to take responsibility whether he excels or chokes.

    go blazers!

    by thedanman on 1/15/2012 10:01 PM
  18. @thedanman:
    LMA said almost the same thing about himself on OR-Live that you just said He needs to fight for an inside position on the low blocks to give his team an inside presents.
    We also need to quit missing all those shots at the rim.

    by Hg on 1/15/2012 10:27 PM
  19. Here is a horrible joke. Maybe LMA takes so many ice bath that when it comes to take a pounding down low he has cold feet-Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

    by Hg on 1/15/2012 10:31 PM
  20. Well, I missed this blog because I was busy last night and most of today. So, most of my emotion has died down. I don't want to sound cruel when I say this, but I've been told basketball is like... well... it's a game of runs. Portland doesn't seem to be that team that can make that final run. It seems we have always notoriously made a run, and then release the gas pedal and don't hit that nail in the coffin. It seems when we make a run, we completely stop doing what got us the lead, or got us back into the game, only to try to grind it out in the end and have it come down to the final seconds. Even games we've won this season, Portland has built big leads and just stops doing what they've been doing to get into that position. But, they never seem to stop looking like fools out there when the opposing team makes a big run, and had Houston been a team that would actually make the playoffs... well... it'd have looked like the San Antonio game all over again.

    The thing that REALLY concerns me, and I hate to pick on the guy, but it's LaMarcus Aldridge. He wants to be clutch. He wants to be the leader. He wants to be the go-to guy. But so far this season, he seems to be taking too much of a liking to being a jumpshooter again. And to make matters worse, he said that yesterdays game was a MUST WIN because they can't drop 3 in a row. But... they did, and LaMarcus didn't help at all. He had a nice stat line if you take away FG%, but no way did he play like an All-Star. A true leader of a team leads by example, and LA has yet to do that this season, and to be completely honest, and completely real, I don't see him being that guy. He's had opportunities in the past to prove he can be clutch, and he's kinda failed at that. Even last night he missed a crucial FT. I need to see more from him, because right now, Portland goes as he goes. And he's been too quiet. I hope this changes as the season progresses and I hope it's because he's not in basketball shape yet, because we're going to be a first round exit if we don't have a clutch guy or a leader on this team.

    Now, I guess the game is today, but if Houston was a "Must-win", I don't even want to know what today's game is, and I don't know if any of my walls are safe from me punching a hole in them if Portland drops this game.

    by Herr on 1/16/2012 2:27 AM
  21. Crawford is shooting 34%. We're asking the person with the poorest shooting average on the team to be our instant offense.

    by Ancientone on 1/16/2012 11:23 AM
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