Portland picked up win #25 of the season tonight. And yes, it was a game they HAD to have. Truth be told, I never thought I’d utter the words….”the Timberwolves have not been an easy team to solve”. Yes, I’m talking about the same team that won an NBA worst 17 games last season. But, this was an offensive performance that was both balanced and impressive. Heck, they shot near 53% shooting for the game. Said interim Head Coach Kaleb Canales afterward, “6 guys in double figures. Luke had 8. We’re sharing the basketball – 22 assists. Just fun basketball tonight.” Why yes it was Coach K.
A lot of fans were feeling the love with legendary Blazers broadcaster Steve “Snapper” Jones on hand. He was honored for his 26 superb years with the team. And the players gave him a performance to remember. The 119 points scored by Portland was their second most of the season. Only the 137 they dropped on San Antonio in February was better.
So you are asking, what about this transformation, Adam? There’s no question that Canales is learning on the fly. The intricacies of being an NBA head coach usually change daily. New responsibilities are the name of the game. But how Canales has been able to manage the rotations is winning me over. I love how he instills trust in some guys that rarely got off the bench. See Luke Babbitt & Nolan Smith (Smith did not play for third straight game due to ear infection). Babbitt led the entire NBA in 3-point accuracy for the month of March. Trust and confidence go together in these “player/coach” relationships.
But as they enter the final month of the regular season, there are two pieces of the future puzzle that should be at the top of Portland’s offseason “to do list”. Sign JJ Hickson and Jonny Flynn. Seven or eight games usually doesn’t seal this for me. But they have each shown the wherewithal through hard work and determination to succeed to be considered.
Both Hickson and Flynn are ‘team first’ guys. Sure, individually they want to do well. But this is about the bigger picture. “I think that’s the beauty about our team, we have balance. Wes had a good game – like you said, everybody had a good game. Everybody plays their part night in, night out, on any given night anyone can go off for 20 plus or 10 or more rebounds. So we just have a balanced attack.”, said Hickson, who had 15 points and a team-high 9 rebounds in his first start as a Trail Blazer.
Meantime, Flynn flourished as the backup point guard. He dished out 7 assists in 18 minutes. A trait that has been lost at times this season. Said Flynn, “I think passing is contagious. When you see people passing up open shots to get somebody else and open shot, others look at and say, ‘That looks a little fun.’ We like getting people involved. I always thought that – passing is contagious and I just try to push the ball up the floor and get other guys shots.”
So, with 13 games to go…Portland is now just 3 games back of a playoff spot. This upcoming week is the time to make a move. With 5 of next 7 at the Rose Garden, I like the Blazers chances. Especially after seeing what I have seen from them in last five games (3-2 record). Next up, the Utah Jazz on Monday. Should be to Portland’s liking too. The Jazz are tied with New Orleans for the second worst road record in the Western Conference. Bring it on Utah!