Blazers Still Winless on Trip
Can you rank losses in the NBA? Do the players rank losses? Or, is that just a job for fans and those who cover the team?
Clearly, we know that some losses, and some wins for that matter, are much more symbolic than others. I guess the bigger question after one of those results is more about the reaction
to the loss or the win.
Last night in Washington the mindset going into the game against the previously-winless Wizards was different. And, it was a bit scary. As we mentioned on the TV broadcast, the fear was that the Blazers would approach the game with a different motivation. There was a heck of a lot more to lose than there was to gain with a win. It's cliche, but it gets potentially dangerous when you're playing not to lose instead of playing to win. There is a huge difference between the two. Ask any coach or player.
The Wizards had been close in some of their 12 losses this season. They had dropped four games by four points or less. They had dropped three games in overtime, including one of their losses coming in double overtime. Their big gun in the middle, Nene, is now back and healthy after missing nine games. In short, they came in last night probably a lot better than their 0-12 record suggested. Of course, that doesn't make anyone feel any better today. The fact is, the Blazers turned out to be Washington's first victim of the season, and that's all that's being talked about today.
We should talk a little about the actual game, rather than the fallout that has followed.
The Blazers did cure one problem that has persisted as of late- they got off to a very good start. Portland was hot early and jumped out to an 11-point lead. The goal, when you're playing a team that's an underdog, is not to let them think "this could be the night." Portland succeeded in taking early control of the game.
After watching Washington come back to take a 15-point fourth-quarter lead, the Blazers were also successful in getting the Wizards into a close game, where they've failed so many times this season. You could see the collar tightening on the Wiz as Portland went on a 16-0 run to take a one-point lead at 80-79. But, as you know by now, the Blazers then had a few empty possessions, the Wizards got the big basket they've been looking for all season, and they were able to win 84-82.
What happened in Portland's locker room after the game has been reported well. Evidently Wesley Matthews, who is undoubtedly the emotional leader of this season, challenged his teammates in a player-only meeting. Jared Jeffries, who is also outspoken, echoed the point Matthews was trying to get across.
Meetings like this, and speeches like this, aren't totally unusual in the NBA. And, I think, in this case, it's a very good sign to see players challenging their teammates. Knowing Wesley, I'm confident his little speech wasn't meant as a critical attack, but was more an attempt at leadership. Good for him.
Hopefully, this will end up being one of those things we'll look back upon as the season continues and remember it as a turning point. I still remember the blowup the Blazers had at a practice in San Antonio a few years ago, where they yelled at each other, chairs were thrown, feelings were hurt, people were called out, and the team responded by winning 13 games in a row. It would be unrealistic to expect that kind of response here, but it's very realistic to think that last night's post-game chat will have some kind of positive result.
The players were embarrassed, disappointed, and frustrated. All of that is a good sign, as even as painful as the loss was to witness.
We're 15 games into an 82-game season. How this loss, and post-game reaction, will ultimately be remembered, will be determined over time. I think it's too early to state that this team has reached a fork in the road, as many have said, but I do think that the fork is in site. Even that may be an overreaction.
It seems like we've been on this trip for a month, but there are still four games left to play on this particular journey, and 67 games to go in the regular season.
Next up, it's the Boston Celtics, who will be shorthanded following the fight in their game against Brooklyn on Wednesday night.
It's Portland's fight that could very well determine what kind of game it will be, and how this, their longest road trip of the season, will be remembered.