mikebarrett

Feb 19

A Costly Home Loss

By mikebarrett
It's been said before that an early double-digit lead in the NBA is meaningless.  That can be the case at times.  Heck, the Trail Blazers have come from double-digit deficits nine times this season to win.  Having that knowledge in your hip pocket, that you come back, can work for you and on some nights it can work against you.  

On Tuesday night the Phoenix Suns almost seemed to catch the Blazers by surprise.  That shouldn't happen.  Portland was flat and sloppy.  Phoenix was sharp and confident.  On this night you saw a rare case where the first four minutes of a game told the complete story. 

The Suns played with an amazing sense or urgency and passion off the opening tip.  The Blazers did not.  The first time the Blazers blinked they were down 12-0 and the tone of the evening was set.  A Suns team, that came in riding a four-game losing skid, was suddenly confident and in control.  Their first-quarter lead grew to 13.  It then became 19, and Portland's fate seemed sealed.  

It was a pattern we've seen at times this season for Portland.  Dig a huge early hole, and then battle uphill the rest of the night trying to get back into the ballgame.  They've done this before, and have survived at times, but it's a dangerous way to live, especially in a game where they had so much to gain, and so much to lose.

Comebacks take a ton of energy, and being the Blazers were playing without their emotional leader in Wesley Matthews, they would have even less firepower to rely on as they were digging out and attempting to recover following that awful start.

You knew a Blazer comeback would eventually get them in a position to strike.  We've seen that so many times before.  But, getting yourself in a position where there's just no margin for error will get you beat in this league more often than you'll win.  

This didn't become a one-possession game until the final minute, when the Blazers got within two points, at 100-98.  All it takes then is an empty offensive possession, a turnover, allowing a single offensive rebound, or leaving the wrong person open, to finish you off.  The Suns, while staggered, did finally close Portland out 102-98, and picked up just their sixth road win of the season.

Offensively, the Blazers were able to sustain just enough to slowly chip away at Phoenix's big lead.  But defensively, they were never able to come up with enough answers.  Trading baskets is okay when you've effectively established what you should be able to establish at home.  But, when you're playing with your backs against the wall after the first four minutes, relying on your opponent to leave the door cracked open, is just hoping when you should be executing.  

The Suns do deserve some credit here.  They're a tough matchup for the Blazers.  They've got an attacking point guard and a big front line.  And, they've got a decent bench, that happened to be better than decent on this night.  

Goran Dragic finished the game with 16 points and a career-high 18 assists.  Most of those assists came in pick-and-roll situations, and they had Portland running in circles all night.  Luis Scola, always a problem for LaMarcus Aldridge, had 18 points.  Jermaine O'Neal had 9 points and 13 rebounds off the bench, and Wesley Johnson could do no wrong in the second half, scoring 14 points on 5 of 8 shooting.

The Blazers were led by JJ Hickson's 25 points and 16 rebounds.  He did his best to display the kind of scrap and hustle the Blazers needed for 48 minutes in a game like this.  Aldridge did get 23 points, but was 7 for 16 shooting.  Damian Lillard, following a very busy all-star weekend in Houston, finished with 24 points and 7 assists.

Without Matthews, the Blazers badly needed someone off the second unit to give them a lift.  But, the bench finished the game just 2 for 15 shooting.

This game started a stretch that'll see the Blazers play 5 of their next 6 at home.  That one road game is against the Lakers on Friday night, and then it's back home for a game against the Boston Celtics on Sunday.  This was the one they had to have.  

The Blazers have now lost six in a row and have fallen to 25-29.  Again, no margin for error, and the clock is ticking.  But, they've still got time.  They've just got to realize that they're not good enough to play 40 minutes of a 48-minute game and live to tell about it.  

The Lakers, who are going to be licking their chops on Friday night, are up next.  Digging an early hole against that team, in that building, won't be the way to snap this skid.  

 

21 Comments

  1. Hey Mike: Of course I had to bowl and my radio wouldn't work, so I was completely blank by what went wrong. It sounds as though PDX, took their opponents to lightly again. I am always weary of that; as you said they are not a good enough team yet to just play 40 minutes of a 48 minute game and expect a win. I can see them trying to pace themselves as the starting 5 is expected to perform big minutes, and I can see playing little defense to conserve energy, but you just can't do that and expect to win many games, so I don't see what the advantage is.

    I haven't read anything about Nic at all, did he not shoot or what?
    Maybe the overachieving finally caught up with them and they are settling down to being a young team with lots of building to do. I call hitting the rookie wall as you have to learn to play the NBA game, and because you are learning so fast, you have to go back and learn the same thing again.

    I know this is trying times for us fans, but this is really what was expected at the beginning of the season, we are far from being consistent, we have to many lows, and not enough highs; I have faith that we will get there, but starting to doubt that we will make the play-offs this year. We need Nic and Wesley at their peak to compete and they are both ailing. In fact it seems as though our losing streak started when Nics wrist and Westley's elbow was effecting their games.

    by Hg on 2/20/2013 6:34 AM
  2. @Hg: Be glad that you didn't get to see it. This was a two clothes pin effort. They came out like they were playing defense in the all-star gome and let a poor team think they are pretty good. Most of our losses occur this way.

    by Ancientone on 2/20/2013 7:54 AM
  3. No mention of Nic because there was nothing worth mentioning.
    Mike and Mike, stop giving the guy wrist excuses. If his wrist is sore then give someone else a chance to play. He stands around doing nothing. He made few if any contributions last night and certainly does not deserve his salary. I am so done with him. His occasional stuff is not enough for this team.

    by allie-oop on 2/20/2013 8:08 AM
  4. Welcome back Mike,
    I hope your time off was relaxing. Well deserved. Your blog followers can not afford you hitting the wall.
    Sloppy and flat. The Blazer starting five can compete with anyone. We've seen that. With one link in the chain missing everything must go perfect. Perfection does not describe last night.
    It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see this team is close to being very good. Add a couple solid fuel rockets and a supporting ground crew and this team takes off. Not this year but we are headed to orbit.
    For now all I want is exciting games. Get Lillard the award he deserves. Lamarcus asserting his will against the young opponents, letting them know he is the sheriff. Batum get back on track. (he had the scowl last night) Now bring the game. Get Wes healthy.

    by the golden ladder on 2/20/2013 9:58 AM
  5. Hg;
    The injuries to Wes and Nic is what makes the production of Damian so amazing. One play last night the Suns double teamed Dame out at the three point line. Dame dribble out of it, with no one to pass to he went to the rim. Two Suns were waiting for for him and split them going up and under the rim for a reverse layin. It was literally 4 on 1. That was only one play. Everyone is doubling Dame now. Lamarcus rarely gets doubled now. Only so many defenders to go around. We need Wes and Nic playing well to free up Dame. Or at least someone Dame can go to that can knock down a shot.

    by the golden ladder on 2/20/2013 1:40 PM
  6. I am not watching Portland games from old europe, just the "résumés" and i am certainly not a/the basketball head/boss . But Lillard´up and under against 2 defenders; a masterpiece. He should go on playing like that and yet think little by little how he could also manage to get the whole team play better. Not to play only as an individual; but think also the way to be more collective; to improve the way the whole team plays. There is time enough - months - to learn to do that.

    by Soopadeajo Sopadeajo on 2/20/2013 2:58 PM
  7. I am getting so sick of this team playing to the level of their opponent. Where is their killer instinct? The Blazers have had a loooong history of doing this since I can remember, and it just irritates me as a Blazer fan that this trend won't go away. These "winnable" games bite this team by season's end every year. Ahhhhh the joys of being a Blazer fan.

    by blazerdarren77 on 2/20/2013 4:26 PM
  8. @blazerdarren77;
    It seems as though every team in the NBA is guilty of that, Maybe Portland just get caught more often. I am not belittling the Blazers because I get angry and love them as much as you, But do you supposed that Miami was a little conceded and thought they could come to PDX and not put out much effort and walk away with the win. Portland is good, but not good enough to actually beat Miami if they were playing all out. So we have won our share of games against teams playing down to what they think our level is.

    But all in all, we have forgotten how new our team is, how weak our bench is and the fact that we are just a middle of the stream team as is Phoenix. so they are really at the same level as Portland, only behind them in wins and losses, and a team should not be judged by the number of games they have won.
    We will get better, I doubt that we will ever get over not bringing their A game every game, but it sure would be fun

    by Hg on 2/20/2013 6:20 PM
  9. We need to see more of Freeland so we can see if he can be as good as I think he can be. Leonard needs to go to D-league so he can get the experience he needed as a sophomore. Two to three weeks of heavy minutes and we could see a greatly improved player.

    by Ancientone on 2/20/2013 9:17 PM
  10. Ancientone;
    I'd have to agree with Meyers going down for like a 3 game run. Pick 3 games in a row when we play against top tier centers. Centers that we would prefer to pull away from the paint. Meyer's interior defense is awful but his defense in space is downright ugly. If he was sent down I would hope they spend 100% of the time talking defense with him. He has all the physical skills. Throw in some knowledge and desire to play defense he could get the job done. Thats all we need from the young man is to protect the paint and clean the glass. When he proves he can do that we will let him dunk it once in a while which is his first love.
    Last year Luke's hot streak came too late. The season was already lost. If he doesn't get in a groove soon the same thing will happen.

    by Divotking on 2/20/2013 9:46 PM
  11. I'll add my voice to those calling for Leonard to go the salt and pepper league for more seasoning. And I also want to see more of Freeland getting meaningful minutes as JJ's backup. I know why coach Stotts has been playing the bench the way he has, but, with only 28 games left, maybe he should be taking longer looks at guys who have shown enough promise to be considered as possible long-term Blazers. Out of necessity he's been doing that with Claver, time to give Freeland those same minutes. Right now, I'd say we're slotted to finish 11th in the West. -- don

    by dgpdx on 2/21/2013 5:25 AM
  12. Reports say late trade for Eric Maynor. Will waive Ronnie. Says two things to me. Confidence in Damian and maturity. The need for a veteran backup is less important. Staying with youth. Second they want to protect our future which is Damian. Keep his minutes reasonable.
    JJ might not be as valuable as we thought.

    by the golden ladder on 2/21/2013 1:18 PM
  13. @ the golden ladder:
    Reading Olsey's transcript on Sarahhecht blog excited me because they are planning on playing Eric and Damian together to give Eric more playing time. and IMO, will help to stop Defenses from blitzing Damian so much and if my memory serves me Eric is really good with the ball, and he plays uptempo very well. I have nothing against Price, but he is to old to be a long time investment to a young team.

    by Hg on 2/21/2013 6:32 PM
  14. first, welcome to portland, Eric Maynor. this is was a good trade for us. we didn't give up much (trade exception and a euro guy who probably would not have played for us) and got a promising backup pg. given the minutes he likely will play, he should cut down on Damian's minutes played. his assist-to-turnover ratio is 3-1 for his career, which is pretty good. hate to say goodbye to Ronnie. he's a great guy, great locker room presence and a great mentor to Damian, which i believe was a major reason he was brought in. just wrote this blog about that if you care to check it out:

    http://blogs.trailblazers.com/PublicProfileRoot/MyBlog/tabid/99/EntryID/4720/IamaUserID/15768/Default.aspx

    second, i don't even want to talk about the game the other day. i really expected a whole lot more. this was absolutely ridiculous. JJ kicked some behind, which is always great to see. we just can't get down 0-12 in the first quarter and expect to be able to come back and win. i'm gonna say it again: we have to play 48 minutes a game. thanks, MB, for interjecting that into the blog!

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 2/21/2013 8:04 PM
  15. I agree with you, Kassandra, that a 3-1 assist-to-turnover ratio is a good "data" for a serious guard. Furthermore the average points per game per minute played is 4.2 / 14.3 = 0.29 pts/mn for Maynor and 18.4 / 38.5 = 0,48 pts/mn for Lillard. And so Maynor is 0.29 / 0.48 = 60 % points per game per minute efficiency from Lillard´s. I would have chosen a 75 % ppg relative efficiency between both guards; but anyway, they could work very well together.

    by Soopadeajo Sopadeajo on 2/22/2013 4:25 AM
  16. I came looking for your Laker blog Mike. I don't see one.
    Is it because you had a front row seat to the worst officiating in recent memory ? Is it because you work for the Blazers and you cannot write down how lopsided, unfair or downright rigged the officiating appeared to be ? Is it because you are as mad and disgusted as all Blazer and NBA fans are about the officiating of the Laker game and you are afraid of going on a rant ? I don't blame you. Shame on the league. Shame on Stern. At my job if I made that many mistakes in a one month period I would be dismissed.

    by the golden ladder on 2/23/2013 12:47 PM
  17. And furthermore. I stay away from criticizing refs. It's a tough job. In the end it usually evens out. Not in this case. It's no surprise both teams had nearly identical records and were fighting for the same playoff spot. There is something about the game last night that smells funny.
    Personally I have been rooting for the Lakers to not make the playoffs. They are not a good team. They are all me, me, me. Now I really want them to flop. Despite all the help from Stern and his refs they still fail. Thanks David for nothing.

    by the golden ladder on 2/23/2013 1:13 PM
  18. I'm with you, Golden Ladder, in not being prone to bashing refs. They usually do a good job and, as you say, the breaks even out, especially over the long haul. That said, there's still this tiny voice in my head that tells me the league would love to see the Lakers in the playoffs far more than Portland. Having a 1st round series between LAL and SA or LAL and OKC would be a ratings bonanza over PDX playing either of those two. My heart wants to believe the NBA is always on the up-and-up, but considering the number of times we've seen this sort of thing happen over the years, my brain still can't completely accept it.
    --
    don

    by dgpdx on 2/23/2013 7:46 PM
  19. One more thing: The NBA badly needs to change their rules concerning replay reviews by refs. If a team requests a review, which is likely why the refs reviewed last nights out of bounds off Batum play, that team must live with the results. On the replay, Batum was clearly fouled and the refs should have awarded him free throws. Rather than saying the rules don't allow reviewing fouls, anything discovered during the replay should be allowed to stand. The purpose of reviews is supposedly to be sure the refs got the original call right. In this case, the original call was wrong twice! So correct both mistakes, not just one!

    by dgpdx on 2/23/2013 7:54 PM
  20. dgpdx;
    You made good points. As you say, the purpose of the review is to get it right.
    As sports fans all we want is a level playing field. The NBA is struggling. If the league feels the best thing for them is to keep their darling teams on the tv by ignoring the integrity of the game, they are wrong. In the long run it will be detrimental.
    Ancientone;
    Our boy Meyers played alright last night. He appeared to know where he was supposed to be and he got there with a little more quickness. He's coming along. I saw improvement.
    Do you have any clothes pins designated for refs only ?

    by Divotking on 2/23/2013 8:47 PM
  21. Guerrilla (1) wars, dear Portlanders, are not really good wars. Lack of justice , unfairness, happens at times; often; but a game is a game is almost a rose; not a machine-gun to destroy. There is a way to win a game: play better. Learning to play still better; cause you played well against Lakers; is something to do.

    (1): guerrilla is a Spanish word that means "little war"; but how do you know a little war will remain little; not to become a secession war ? Remain united; they already want us in Spain to be broken in pieces; to divide us. We do not want the Catalan (or Basque) secessionism.

    by Soopadeajo Sopadeajo on 2/24/2013 5:16 AM
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