Game 10 recap: Blazers 90 Wizards 109

One-Sentence Game Summary:  The NBA:  Where embarrassing happens.

Boxscore

This recap is going to be short and sweet.  There are dozens of things we could talk about explaining the loss tonight but it boils down to this:

Seeing that we have such a young team (as we have talked about ad nauseum) I am able to make a lot of allowances.  If we get beat by a superstar we don't know how to stop or can't get calls against I'm fine with that.  If we get beat by an overwhelming offensive attack that breaks down the somewhat flimsy dam of our lopsided defense I'm fine with that.  If we get beat because it's an off night and our open shots aren't falling for some weird reason and we lose confidence I'm fine with that.  If we get beat because the other team makes adjustments that we're not familiar with and haven't learned to cope with I'm fine with that.  Heck, if a couple of players make enormous mental errors looking like deer in the headlights I'm fine with that too.  Learning the game can be bewildering.  But the one thing I should never, ever have to say with this young team--especially this young team--is that they got outworked, outhustled, and that the other team played with far more desire.  This team has been put together for that express purpose with exactly those kind of players.  If we don't have that going for us, what hope do we have?  Age is no factor when it comes to this.  You go out there every night and play like you want it, even if you're not quite sure how to get it.

Unfortunately that's exactly what happened tonight.  Washington--short their star player mind you--had far more passion, desire, and grit from the opening tip until nearly the final horn.  We played flat, soggy, and impotently.  We settled for horrible shots, we ran down the clock to no purpose, we didn't seem to help or communicate on defense (let alone stop anyone individually), we turned the ball over ridiculously, and we let them get any number of critical rebounds.  We never threatened them at all.  The Wizards were so far in their comfort zone they might as well have played in E-Z chairs.  We were so far out of ours that it looked like we were junior high boys at our first dance and the ball was the entire cheerleading squad.  We didn't just fail to take this game, we practically ran from it.

You may have noticed tonight that we tried to pressure the ball, returning the favor for what teams have done to us.  I was watching a possession where we trapped the dribbler just across the halfcourt line.  The guy passed the ball down to the scoring area.  I didn't follow the ball though, I watched the guy who had just passed it.  After he released the ball his defenders just stood, as if saying, "Well, my part in this scheme is over."  Both of them relaxed visibly.  It was only for a second or so, but that second was enough to pretty much invalidate the good that had come from the trap in the first place.  Both the offensive player and the ball were now on the move and the two trappers were now behind the play instead of disrupting it.  I don't think we ever need to see anything like that again.

What will fix this?  There are any number of technical adjustments but before any of them will work we have to get a few things straight:

  1.  You play every game like you are there to win it.  You run, dive, drive, pound, and pressure until you can't stand up anymore.  Each player commits to never being the last guy down the floor, never being the guy who stands flat-footed while somebody else gets the rebound, never giving up on a defensive stop or possession until that ball is ours again.
  2.  You don't shoot at the basket, you attack it.  Enough pretty scoring.  Enough getting blown out in points in the paint.  Own that key, drive full throttle, get around people and throw down.
  3.  You make the opponent as uncomfortable as possible and your teammates as comfortable as possible.  When the enemy has the ball you harass, double, jump, and go all-out.  Each wide-open shot--or worse wide-open lane--is like a personal insult.  You communicate and help your teammates with their defensive assignments, making it easier on them to do their jobs.  Every made bucket reflects on all of you.   When you have the ball you get guys into open positions (somewhere inside the three-point arc please), you get the ball to them, and you tell them to score.  You set HARD picks and play as energetically when you are away from the ball as you do when you have it.  You lift each other up in the huddle and tell everybody to keep working for and taking those smart shots.  You rebound as a team and attack with five people every time a shot goes up instead of watching it.  You assume they missed every time and get...that...ball.
  4.  If someone pushes you, you push back.  If they pull a knife, you pull a gun (figuratively speaking, of course).  If they come with two people, you bring three.  If they want to throw down with the whole team, then it's World War Three baby and all of your teammates are behind you.  When that ball goes up it ain't a tea party.  It's like the prison yard.  You're either the Big Dog or the guy...well, who isn't the big dog.  You aren't here to make friends or to look good.  You are here to impose and enforce your will, period.  
If you're not doing all of this to start with it really won't matter what scheme you use or what players you put in.  And speaking of players, at this point I think Nate plays Lamarcus, Brandon, and whatever other three players are giving their all out there, from Martell Webster to Raef LaFrentz.  Names don't matter, heart matters.  

Here's to a better, more focused, and pretty much angry game in Charlotte.  We better make the Bobcats remember our name.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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