Mar 01

Slow Start Dooms Portland

By mikebarrett
If you were among those hoping that the lengthy all-star break would help cure what has plagued the Trail Blazers so far this season, Wednesday night’s events probably didn’t make you too happy.  The inconsistent play, wild swings in energy, and the struggles away from home are all apparently still with us.  And, we saw yet another case where the Blazers dug themselves a big hole to start a game, but never could climb their way back to the top of the mountain.

 In short, the issue still appears to be about bringing the proper amount of energy, and sustaining it for an entire 48-minute game.  Perhaps it can all be chalked up to the fact that this team, for whatever reason, is lacking confidence.  That can certainly disguise itself as an energy issue.

As we pointed out during this game in Denver, the Trail Blazers are 6th in the league in offense, and are 10th in the NBA in defense.  It’s never as easy as simply looking at a couple of league rankings and thinking that’s an indication of a team’s overall strength, but simply based on those numbers this Portland team should be better than 18-17.  That, by the way, is exactly the same record the Blazers held after 35 games last season.  As we know, that team was able to pull itself together and catch fire down the stretch of the season.  This year, there’s not nearly the same amount of time to get things figured out, and the schedule isn’t exactly kind the next few weeks.

Denver came into this game shorthanded, and has been struggling.  They started the season 14-5, but had been just 4-12 since.  They hadn’t even been playing well at home, something they almost always do.  Without several of their big horses, the Nuggets were able to outscrap, outhustle, and outplay the Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.  They built a 19-point lead, held off several Portland runs, and won the game 104-95.  The Trail Blazers had already clinched the season series by beating Denver twice in Portland, but no one was thinking about that after the game, and it certainly didn’t make them feel any better.

I’m not going to walk through every stat in this box score that’s sitting in front of me, but it doesn’t take much searching to find things that just leap off the page.  Denver outrebounded the Blazers in this game 54-36.  The Blazers surrendered a season-high 21 offensive rebounds to the Nuggets as well.  This is the same Denver team, that when at full strength earlier in the season, was outrebounded by the Blazers 50 to 30.  Rebounding isn’t always indicative of hustle and effort, but it’s usually as good an indicator as any.

Portland shot 44 percent from the field, 38 percent from behind the three-point line, 91 percent at the line, and turned the ball over only 13 times.  If you would have handed me those stats before the game, I would have said that’s good enough for a road win.  It didn’t work out that way against this determined Denver team.  The fact of the matter is they played like they were more determined than the Blazers.  You never want to say that after a game, and we’ve said it way too many times this season.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 20 points and 9 rebounds in this game, and said afterward he was very, very frustrated, and that this team tends to bring it against the elites in the NBA, but also has a habit of playing to the level of its competition.  He also said that it has to stop, right now.

So, with that in mind, don’t be a bit surprised to see the Blazers look very good on Thursday night against the Miami Heat.  They had better, or it’s going to be a long night.  They’ve always been able to get up for games against teams like Miami, especially at the Rose Garden.  That’s not the issue.  It’s games like they played Wednesday that are becoming increasingly irritating.

When you look at what’s ahead in this team’s immediate future, it’s chilling-  Miami, Minnesota (playing great), and New Orleans (playing much better) at home, and then a 7-game, 13-day road trip that we’re looking forward to like a trip to the dentist.

The 18-17 mark isn’t the worst thing in the world, and this team should easily remember how quickly they brought things together last season after posting that same record through 35.

Now, they just have to remember how they did it.


  1. You go in against a crippled team and seem so disinterested that a chance to blow out a team competing directly with you for a playoff spot. Two players played like they wanted to play. Elliot Williams and Chris Johnson. They played very well. Maybe what Nate needs to do when this team plays this way at the start of a game is clear the end of the bench and sit the "stars". I'll bet we would at least see a lot of effort.

    by Ancientone on 3/1/2012 8:56 AM
  2. I didn't think this team could get anymore frustrating to watch/follow, but they have. It's like they are trying to pace themselves not just for the compressed season, but also for the game, so they don't give enough effort until the second half and by then they are to far behind to recover enough to win.

    by dockaren on 3/1/2012 9:14 AM
  3. Trade for Rondo, Monta Ellis and what else is possible now.

    by Tiago Torigoe on 3/1/2012 9:39 AM
  4. I'm with Ancientone in wanting the young guys in whenever the vets look uncommitted. It seemed to me as though everyone was just off on their recognition skills: Is he open? Is help coming? Where's my man? Where's that rebound going? They were all slow to see what was happening. Nic especially seemed like he'd just stepped off the plane after a long ride back from France. But I would point out that this isn't the first time we've faced a team supposedly uninterested in defense that arrives brimming with effort and takes it to the Blazers. Do our scouting reports convince these guys they know what level will do the job, so they get caught flat-footed when "bad" teams show up and play like it's the play-offs? You'd think by now the lesson would have sunk in that any team can show up on fire, and if we don't bring our most intense game we'll lose.

    by Islander on 3/1/2012 10:09 AM
  5. it's the same old story; either we can't start off well, or we can't end well. i'm not going to go all long here because i don't think it's needed.

    there were some decent performances (i.e. Jamal, LaMarcus), but a couple of guys really dropped the ball last night. Crash needs to play better on the road. period. i can almost give Nico a gimme on this one because he's played so many good games in a row (but after so many days off, he should have come out stronger than that).

    our problem is simple: we are a jump-shooting team. we say we want to go inside first, but we don't do it. we rely way too much on outside jumpers and it's killing us in games. we're simply not a high enough percentage shooting team to be able to rely on that.

    at the same time we were bombing from outside, denver was hitting shot after shot at the rim. so on offense AND on defense, we apparently just don't want to play inside. LaMarcus is right; that has to change. in order for us to make a run to the playoffs -- and a strong run through the playoffs -- that has to change now. period.

    i'm going to agree with Ancientone in his first post here; Elliot (who could have a highlight reel of his own) and Chris played like they really want to play.

    if you look at the way Kevin McHale coaches the rockets, you'll see that the players who show up wanting their minutes are the ones who get their minutes. i'm not saying we use the rockets as a model, but i think it's clear that we need to employ a similar substitution strategy. if you show up to play, you play -- egos be damned.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 3/1/2012 11:51 AM
  6. Hey Mike: thank you for the blog.
    As you say, this does have the tendency of being very irritating and puzzling.
    I could understand over-looking a Sac to be prepared of a OKC, but against a team in your own division, a half a game behind you in the standings and a team that we have only beat 1 time in the last 17 games at home should be enough challenge to bring up the energy level.
    It seems they played well enough to not be enirely out of the gam, but even their comebacks seemed methodically. Maybe they fooled some of the fans by just going through the motions, but as big of a homer as I am and as big of a fool that I am, their performance last night showed me nothing.
    It almost seemed like they took last night off to prepare for the Heat, but I have to ask why would they do that? National publicity because they beat the best? Were they satisfied in taking the series from Denver?
    In my way of thinking, they would take care of last night's game then worry about Miami. They could conceivably play the best game they could and still get beat by Miami. In that regards you play ot win every game.

    I go with Ancientone and Islander, If the starters don't want to win or play let the bench get some run. If the results is a loss either way at least the bottom of the bench would get some burn.

    by Hg on 3/1/2012 11:46 AM
  7. @Kassandra:
    I do agree with your post, but, (remember there is always a but) Denver like Miami, Orlando, LAL, and Many others plugs the middle to the point that an ant couldn't walk through it and we must be aware of the home team advantage that you can kick Thomas in the face without getting a foul called, so how could you penetrate to get a shot up? Mike R said you were not going to beat Denver on their floor at the free throw line because they don't foul at home, Tee Hee. At any rate, you are right we depend on our jump shots because that is what they give us whether then to attack their bread and butter. Also Denver encourages you to shoot from outside so they can run back and jamb your miss down your throat.
    But more then the outside shooting being a downfall our rebounding is getting bad. Maybe Joel will help out their. I listened to part of the Adam and Sarah show this morning and they were puzzled why Camby didn't get more minutes after Thomas was pulled with an injury.

    With playing the bottom of the bench, since Thomas got hurt, we should activate Joel and let him get his feet wet tonight.

    by Hg on 3/1/2012 12:05 PM
  8. Hg: Thanks for reminding me that the way the game was called had an impact. It's not that the officials were biased, but that they were at the extreme end of "let them play," and that really favored the more aggressive team. But you know something is wrong when Denver, minus Nene, utterly outmuscles you.

    by Islander on 3/1/2012 12:31 PM
  9. I'm growing very tired of hearing we need to "figure this thing out". It's not rocket science. Put a body on somebody. Rebound the damn ball.
    The Blazers have a roster full of good players. What they don't have are any "dirty work" guys. Maybe Camby. Maybe Matthews. I'm hoping Pryz can help with that.
    This team has potential. Go to work.

    by Divotking on 3/1/2012 5:27 PM
  10. This game was awful to watch from the beginning mb. I saw this same kind of play against a completely crappy laker team in los angeles. I dont understand how these blazers are playing to the level of the competition and getting away with it. nate is doing all he can do as a coach, but if the players block out what he wants done then its easy to blame him. i have seen enough from this lackluster team, its time to begin trade talks with other teams, its time to realize this team is underachieving and the longer it is allowed to conitune the more fans of the franchise are to going to ask for heads to be traded. the upcoming game for these blazers against the heat is just like any other game, they might win they might lose, but if they lose, it wont be a surprise because this team just doesnt play together and its evident at the loses against the crappy teams. i think ill root for the opponent in this game.

    by Imwytdashyt Epps on 3/1/2012 5:35 PM
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