Slow Start Dooms Portland
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.