Jan 31

Another Near Miss on the Road

By mikebarrett
The Trail Blazers were emotionally charged, focused, and determined to get a big, divisional road win in Salt Lake City on Monday night.  It kind of feels like they thought that would be enough, and the rest would happen automatically.  As they have found out several times this season, when you're away from the comforts of your own building, and the energy provided by your own fans, pretty good just isn't enough.  Anything less than 48 sharp minutes will only lead to disappointment.  

The Utah Jazz were also very fired up for this game, and afterwards called the win "epic," and was a game they had circled on the calendar.  They had looked at this as a huge measuring stick for them, and the fact that they came into the game shorthanded, without Raja Bell and Al Jefferson, only seemed to add to their resolve.

I always hear people say, after games like this, things like "the Blazers should have won this game."  It was certainly sitting there for them, I'll give you that.  But, when you miss nine-straight field goal attempts in the fourth quarter of any game, it's tough for me to say they should have won it.  And then there's always the debate about whether Portland lost this game, or Utah won it.

As frustrating as that stretch was to sit through, the Jazz deserve some of the credit in this game.  That doesn't mean that Portland didn't control its own destiny, leading by 11 in the second half, but the Jazz made some very big plays in this game and therefore, it could be argued, deserved to win.

All that really matters is that the Trail Blazers are sitting here on the day after another big road loss searching for answers.  The worry, of course, is that the more this happens the more it becomes a mental block for this team.  The next time they're in this situation will they be looking for ways to win, or will they be thinking about the past and worrying about how they will lose?  That may not sound like a huge issue, but it's a gigantic fork in the road.  Success breeds success, and when you fail at big moments, it's just as contagious.  A lot of NBA games are close.  It's what happens in crunch time that separates the good from the very good.

In the recent past, the Blazers have been very good in close games.  We've celebrated the numbers to back that up in the last few seasons, and they had built that repuation around the league- you get the Blazers in a close game, and nine times out of 10 they'll beat you.  The stats always backed that up.  But, we're seeing now that this is a very fine line.

This season, the Trail Blazers are now 1-6 in games decided by six points or fewer.  Again, this is so opposite of what we've seen out of this team up to this point.  A very real factor, and one that can't be overstated, is that this team doesn't have a closer right now.  We all know Brandon Roy was that guy.  He was the major reason the Blazers were always so good in tight situations.  How many games did he win in the final seconds for this team?  The list is sitting around here somehwere.  It's long.  He's not here.  So, they've got to figure this out.

The good news is that this team is 12-9 and isn't happy.  They've lost five very close games, and most of their road losses were there for the taking.  The challenge is, and this isn't a little one, is that while this is a fixable problem, it's not going to be easy.  Number 7 is not there to rescue this team with a heroic play.  There's no Mariano Rivera warming up in the pen.  Someone else has to step up and assume this role.

There are some candidates out there.  LaMarcus Aldridge was dominant during stretches of the second half in Utah.  But, the Jazz absolutely swarmed him late in the game.  It's also tough for your power forward to be your closer.  It's usually someone with the ball in his hands a lot on the perimeter.  Look around the league at the great closers and you'll see what I mean.  They are rarely post players.

Jamal Crawford?  Yes, it's there for him.  Gerald Wallace?  In certain situations he could help with this.  Raymond Felton?  He's not shooting it well enough right now, but potentially could be a big-moment guy.  Nicolas Batum?  Very much yes.  He's the guy, in my opinion, who could assume this role.  But, that's going to have to be another day.  This opportunity is gone.  But, another one is right around the corner.  That's the great thing about the NBA.  You get lots of chances.

Of course, Batum's knee is now a question mark.  At the time of this posting I don't have additional info on his MRI.  I watched the replay 15 times on the plane on the way home and just couldn't tell what we're looking at here.  He was optimistic, but we'll know more soon.

Previous Story: Payback Time for Blazers


  1. Great article. With how frustrated fans are with the number of games the Blazers should have won, I can only imagine how much more that would be for the players, coaches, and all those involved. Still lots of season to be played, but this is definitely something that needs to be fixed. Thanks for all your hard work, Mike.

    by XCAsian on 1/31/2012 10:48 AM
  2. He was optimistic, but so was Jeff Pendergraph. All in all I hope the best for Batum.

    What can I say anymore? How many times have we seen this play out?

    That's now about 7 road games the Blazers had opportunities to win, and they're the ones that blew it. You could give credit to the other teams, and should, because they did their best to win, but what sucks is to be an elite in this league, you have to know how to win on the road. The only positive I saw in this game was that Gerald Wallace seemed to be a bit more active.

    Against the Clippers, the Blazers blew it.
    Against the Rockets, Hawks, Suns, Detroit they blew it.
    Against the Magic they've blew it.

    And now against the Jazz, they blew it.

    It still feels as if the only game the Blazers deserved to lose because the other team was better, was against the Spurs.

    The main problem I have, is that this problem seems so fixable, but I can't go into the heads of the players and tell them to play with energy.

    Fact of the matter is we built our lead early by playing smart, aggressive, and active basketball. That's how the Blazers took command. After that, despite our lead, we left the door wide open. We got sloppy, our defense looked pathetic, and it just took the Jazz 3 more quarters to realize the door was open, and they finally took advantage of it. The problem is we do not keep that foot on the pedal. We rush to 100mph and then go down to about 35mph, and never decide to go any faster.

    And to me, it doesn't feel like missed shots are the problem. Yes, you can't miss wide open ones all the damn time, but the more aggressive team is going to get the calls, and that is why Utah got to the line nearly 3x more than the Blazers.

    They are also far too passive on defense. Against the Suns, they kept attacking regardless, and had shut down defense nearly the entire game. Despite who is on the Suns roster, they are still a good offensive team.

    The thing is, as hard as it is for them to lose games, it's hard on us fans as well. We just don't get how you can beat the Suns by 38 and then have 2 days off and come out again doing what they did last night. You can give credit all you'd like to the Jazz, and they do deserve some for giving effort, but the Blazers had this game, just like they had those 6 other games, and they threw them out the window. And I promise the Blazers, these games WILL come back to haunt them. They already are.

    At least we play at home against the Bobcats on Wednesday. I'll be going to Roseland to see In Flames, so it'll be the first game in awhile that I'll be missing. All I know, is if we're talking about a loss... ugh.... it pains me to even think about it.

    by Herr on 1/31/2012 10:55 AM
  3. Here's my problem with out "finishing problem." It's that Nate goes to the same play over and over, the pick & roll either up top or on the side. That's great and all, but he continues to run it over and over, and it doesn't matter if the opponent plays great D or not because Nate keeps running the play. We got stuffed in the 4th quarter because Utah saw that play 20+ times earlier in the game. So when it came to crunch time they had already seen the play and knew what to do, that is why the offense bogged down late in the game (well that and nobody could hit the broadside of a barn besides Nic). Really this comes down to 1) Lamarcus seems to get tired playing 40+ minutes, so his production in the 4th seems to drop dramatically, that needs to change. Either cut his minutes the first 3 quarters so he has energy for the 4th, or ride him hard for the first 3 qtrs. and hope that is enough from him to win. You can't do both. 2) Quit playing guys out of loyalty. Wes couldn't hit anything last night, yet they kept him in jacking up brick 3s. 3) Can we please stop switching every pick and roll. They switch even when they don't have to, it is just the easy thing to do. QUIT SWITCHING PICK AND ROLLS AND WE WONT END UP IN SO MANY MISMATCHES! And finally, 4) Pay Nic Batum. You pay Wesley $6+ mil per year, and you won't pay Nic more? He does more out there then Wes, it only makes sense he makes more money then Wes.

    I know I'm going to take a lot of criticism for "playing coach," but Nate's not doing it. He runs the same thing over and over, successful or not. That's not a coach, that's a robot.

    by Richard Ackerman on 1/31/2012 11:07 AM
  4. Hey Mr. Mike, You said about all I could say, Boy do I miss BRoy, but I am not crying over spilled milk. Last nights loss was mostly due to no rebounding in the fourth and all the shots but one was outside jumpers, and that one was in the closing seconds when Matthews made a lay-up because that is what Utah wanted him to do beings we were down 3 points. we had to foul and hope they would miss and we could get a rebound.

    Anyway, it was a discouraging loss and although the problem is fixable, with our present rotation, I don't know where we will get consistent shooting from.

    I thank you for the update and we all are in the woes of away games.

    by Hg on 1/31/2012 11:23 AM
  5. It wasn't just a fold at the 2nd half. We were badly outrebounded the whole game. Rebounding is effort.

    Of course it doesn't help when your gaurds shoot you right out of it. Three clinkers in a row from Felton at the three point line and a close game is gone.

    by Ancientone on 1/31/2012 11:56 AM
  6. @Ancientone: The blazers had an 11 point lead a couple of minutes after half time. They were doing other things right, and the defense was holding firm (except for the rebounding). The problem is after that point they slacked off dramatically in those things they were doing right as well. That is what allowed an 11 point Portland lead to disappear and a 7 point Utah lead to take its place. I actually turned off the TV at that point out of sheer frustration, "here we go again" I thought to myself, and even though there was still 5 minutes left in the game I know they doomed. Just because this has all happened before....

    You're right about the lack of effort, particularly in rebounding. But that wasn't the only reason they lost, although I suppose that was where their "Second Half Meltdown" stemmed from as it spread from rebounding into other areas.

    by outcast on 1/31/2012 2:35 PM
  7. Very nice post MB. Even though I have just recently been able to post comments on your blog (got the technical issues ironed out finally) I have read it every week for the last three years. In all brutal honesty, this is one of the few times that you have really laid the issue out there. There is no mystery why Portland can't close late in games. They do not have the perimeter personnel at this point, to fulfill this role. Batum is a nice player, but does not have the mentality. We need to stop hoping and wishing there, because that is all we will be doing in terms of him.

    In my mind, he is the one player that is the most movable at this point in time, given his age and upside. We also have basically the same type of players in Matthews and Crawford, so if we could trade one of these two players with Batum and get a VIABLE 2 guard, we need to. There is no way around it. Mike Rice stated all of this at the end of the Dallas series (Shooting Guard is the issue). I don't want to see Nicholas go anymore than anyone else wants to, but LMA is untouchable, as well as ineffective without some more consistent and clutch perimeter scoring.

    I happen to think Felton is solid at the point. He is not a Chris Paul, or anywhere near that level, but he pushes the tempo, is a decent shooter and defender, and distributes the ball effectively.

    by Jaredtherebel2001 on 1/31/2012 3:12 PM
  8. Call it poor attitude or maybe I have watched too many blazer road games this year, but as soon as the Jazz took the lead, I wrote this game off. I do agree that we should have better offensive planning, but honestly..rebounding kicked out butts today. The Jazz were aggressive on the boards and got wayyy to many second chance buckets.

    Somewhere someway we gotta find ways to win these games..get rebounds..LA needs to be more consistent throughout the entire game..hustle for 48 min and not just 30-40. One thing bugging me lately, is Felton. Not for this loss, the team can take the fall here. Im talking his overall play...stinks!...I always liked Miller..but when we got Felton was still good about it, because Miller is getting older and Felton seemed to be a younger talented pg. But his shooting is just off...and he seemed to force the ball into crowded defenses. The style of gameplay we play now without Broy..is perfectly suited for Mr. Miller...and while it doesnt matter anymore...I wonder how we would be this year with him.

    by whitefeather21380 on 1/31/2012 5:32 PM
  9. I actually think Felton suits the fast paced style we originally started the season playing better than Miller does...but in my opinion, PG is not our issue any more.
    I believe if we had more consistent scoring from the perimeter, both inside and outside, the true value of Felton would be revealed. He would shoot less, dish and drive more. We also need (as you alluded to) more inside scoring and rebounding. The tired LMA you see is just that...! He is double teamed constantly in the post and on the blocks. That is how you beat Portland, as Rick Carlisle demonstrated last year in the playoffs.

    You force LMA to kick it out to guys who are not shooters, jacking up 3s =easy win. But keep in mind that better shooting does not in and of itself gurantee success, as Orlando has deomstrated the last two years. Even with the most dominant big man in the game, and some GREAT outside shooters, you still have to have depth on the front line to win. This encompasses rebounding, blocked shoots, and as Sir Charles has consistently said the last three years when talking about the Blazers...Easy baskets, or the lack thereof..

    by Jaredtherebel2001 on 1/31/2012 6:02 PM
  10. you can break the game down all you want but i think nate said it best. utah wanted it more. i'm not saying we were lackadaisical but we weren't as hungry. and, i know it sounds like i'm beating a dead horse, our guards need to find their touch. our outside shooting is horrendous.

    go blazers!

    by thedanman on 1/31/2012 9:17 PM
  11. The fact we're now losing close games we used to win in recent years is another clue as to how great BRoy really was.

    As you said on the broadcast, MB, rebounding won this game for Utah. Giving up 18 offensive boards is going to lose most games. From what I saw, the Jazz were simply working harder and hence were quicker to the ball. Either that or they just have quicker players all around...

    We clearly must shoot better in the clutch to have a decent chance in the playoffs, or even in getting there in the first place. Nico was hot in the 4th and we were getting him the ball. But as soon as Utah starting playing him tight, no one else could make a shot.

    by dgpdx on 1/31/2012 11:09 PM
  12. Upset I am about this game and other close games on the road which the blazers ended up losing. In close games on the road, in the end everyone on the team freezes and turns into scared shooters. Of course, this happens to many other NBA teams...the mediocre ones. Let's enjoy the blazers for what they are, supposed to be talented, supposed to be experienced, supposed to be big and long upfront to win every rebound battle, but...mediocre. After the Atlanta game, I learned it's not worth it to take half a day off to watch the blazers in the morning from accross the ocean.

    by anORinSpore on 2/1/2012 8:19 AM
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