Back to their Roots
It seems no matter how much the Blazers make roster changes, it seems the Blazers are always the Blazers. Since Greg Oden was drafted, only LaMarcus Aldridge remains as an active Blazer. That was back in 2007. Now, fast forward 5 years. We lose our Superstar in Brandon Roy. We've only seen Oden for 82 games. We've changed point guards three times, and have made the playoffs 3 times.
At the start of the season, the Blazers looked impressive, picking up three straight wins, two of them coming from teams that are likely to participate in the playoffs, and one being a divisional foe. The New Year starts, and the Blazers come up flat footed and without much effort in a loss to the Clippers on their first road game. That loss was quickly avenged by a great win against the OKC Thunder, a place that is very difficult to win, especially when the Thunder lost the previous game. After that, we hit home and beat the hated Lakers in another epic showdown against the Lakers. Since that game, things haven't exactly been... great. After beating the Lakers, the Blazers are now 1-3 in their last 4 games. Two coming on the road, and one coming in the last minutes against that same Clipper team that previously beat them.
At the start of the season, seeing the way the Blazers played, I thought they could easily get to the top seed in the league, and be the best team in the West. They certainly looked like it. Now it seems a reality check has hit, and it seems the Blazers have once again gone back to their roots. Can they be the Best in the West? Of course, they certainly have that potential. Can they win the West throughout the playoffs? Again, they have that potential. Am I giving up on the Blazers after having a tough stretch and going 1-3? Not at all, but as the season progresses, teams tend to show their identity, and right now, the Blazers are headed in the wrong direction towards the identity that always has haunted them.
A majority of the Blazer losses that I see is because they never play a full 48 minutes. This happens all the time, and sometimes in specific buildings. Against Orlando, the Blazers trailed by 23 at one point in the second half, and had a chance to pull off a comeback victory. But, the Magic prevailed. Looking at the box score, the game was pretty much done in the first quarter. Winning trying to get out of a hole is a lot harder than burying your opponent and coasting to a victory. The Blazers have let that happen too many times over the years, and it still becomes a problem for the Blazers.
The Blazers have also drafted, signed, or traded for jump shooters, especially for the perimeter shot. But, it seems these great jump shooters don't look as great when they're in a Portland uniform. Another big concern I have for the Blazers that still haunts me from the previous years is that the Blazers don't make the defense work and take stupid shots, or throw up unneeded three pointers. I get it, if you're open, you should shoot if you're a jumpshooter. But the Blazers aren't, and haven't been, a good three point shooting team. Something that has haunted us Portland fans for quite awhile now. Yet, they appear to jack up the threes as much as some of the teams that simply rely on the three ball. You're bailing out your opponent if you go 1-10 in a half, and end up the game going something around 3-24. At what point do the Blazers realize that maybe it's just not the night to be jacking up three pointers, and look for a better shot. Make the defense work. Blazers don't do enough of this. Taking bad shots does nothing but bail out the defense and can often lead to a fast break for the opponent.
There's a man on TNT that is often there to act like a fool, say outrageous things, and look stupid purely for entertainment. That man is Charles Barkley, (although I must admit, with Kenny Smith and Shaq now on the show, he looks like a basketball genius). There are few things I agree with him, but one is that jumpshot teams don't win championships. Although the jump shooting Mavs won the championship, one reason I never see them doing that again is because they were almost always consistently hitting their jumpshots, and that never happens. Jumpshots appear to be contagious with the Blazers, and missed shots are spread that disease worse. The Blazers simply take too many jumpshots when they should be attacking the basket. This is a problem many had with LaMarcus Aldridge before he reached his All-Star form. Wesley Mathews, Gerald Wallace, Raymond Felton, and Nicolas Batum all have a killer drive, and have the potential to get a team into foul trouble early and often. But all of them quickly settle for jumpshots. Force the double team and find the open cutter.
The last thing that concerns me mainly is Nate McMillian. I've agreed to give Nate one more chance, despite him having 3 strike outs in the playoffs, but can he lead in the playoffs? It appears every post-season he's the coach that's put up against the wall and digging himself out of a match-up hole. In Houston, he got badly out-coached by Rick Adelman. Same thing happened against Phoenix, and then again against the Mavericks. Nate looks lost in the post-season. Is it time to start looking for a new commander? How many more chances does Nate get? He hasn't done anything wrong this season, but the fact is the Blazers are notorious for under performing in a ton of games. It still amazes me that the Blazers were able to go on a 13 game winning streak in December and miss the playoffs after having a high seed in December. A lot of those losses were because of the players lacking effort. Is it Nate's fault? Is it the players fault? Whose is it?
The Blazers are a new team, and with the West getting significantly weaker over the off-season, the time is now. The Regular season is here to determine where you place in the playoffs. And with the shortened schedule, every game counts. It bothers me that 75% of the Blazer losses have come from under performing on both ends on the court. We've seen about 3 different teams this season that the Blazers act like. The one that beat OKC and the Lakers. The one that didn't show up in Phoenix, and the one that lost to the Magic simply because the Magic were the better team that night. Which team are we going to see this season? Which team is the one that we can expect to show up in the playoffs?
The Blazers need to answer these questions and solve these problems soon. Their expected to be a high seed team, especially with their talent and potential. But, they need to make sure they don't go back to their old habits that have haunted them for many years.