Nate McMillan's Blazers just dropped their third straight game overall and second straight at home, a solid 107-100 thumping at the hands of the Miami Heat.
His star center was burdened by early foul trouble, so much so that McMillan was assessed a rare technical foul coming to his player's defense and then later had to be restrained by an assistant coach so as to avoid ejection. His star power forward sat out the game unexpectedly because of a knee bruise. His all-star two guard -- who spent the week wringing his hands over an offensive pecking order and purported sacrifices -- got every shot he could handle (25 field goal attempts in total) and missed 64% of them. His starting point guard failed to show up until garbage time. Ditto for Martell Fernandez -- a new-model hybrid wing merged together because its independent parts never show up in the same game -- decided to check out entirely, especially on defense.
All in all, it was a low point for McMillan, a three-game losing streak valley that he hasn't visited in nearly a year. After the game, he addressed his team for longer than usual and then addressed the media for longer than usual. Reporters picked the performance apart from all sides, some offering helpful suggestions disguised as questions while others simply seemed confused.
For almost ten minutes, McMillan answered these queries. But when the last question came, "You've got three straight days for practice time. What will you work on?" McMillan exhaled. "We've got to just keep working. We've got to work on the defensive end of the floor. Both ends of the floor. Offensive and defensive."
So, to sum it up, everything. Everything needs work this week.
Sounds about right to me. I'm guessing you probably agree too.
Aside from Greg Oden's record-setting rebounding (20 total, 11 offensive), Andre Miller's foul-drawing (12 free throw attempts) and Juwan Howard's solid play in place of LaMarcus Aldridge (15 points, 5 boards, 2 assists in 26 minutes before he ran out of gas in the second half), it's difficult to find building blocks from tonight's loss that might be transformed into positive reinforcement in practice this week. Really, it was another night of the same old losing song and dance.
The offense was too predictable. Brandon Roy over-dribbled and struggled to read the Miami defense, his gaudy stat line (25 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) taking him a step closer to the all-star game but his overall play (low shooting percentage, ineffective passing, turnovers) again looking unfit for playoff success.
Blazers guards struggled to keep up on the perimeter early and then failed to close out late. In-game defensive adjustments, if there were any, were overwhelmed or ignored by Miami's attack, which saw three players (Dwyane Wade, Michael Beasley, and Quentin Richardson) go for 20+ and another, Jermaine O'Neal, go for 14 points, including some back-breaking baskets down the stretch. Add that up and you're left with a mini-romp.
If you pressed me to really scrape the barrel, I see two positives emerging tonight.
First, as McMillan notes below, the overall effort and intensity was improved (although it would be difficult not to improve over the effort displayed Friday and Saturday). Despite a double-digit deficit, the Blazers played to the final whistle, even delivering Chalupas to the few fans that remained rather than totally caving under a 17 point Miami lead.
Second, Roy refreshingly singled himself out for responsibility for the loss. "I've got to play better for 48 minutes," he noted after the game. "I gotta start playing much better. Hopefully I can do that Saturday." Those words stand as the most appropriate observation Roy has made in some time.
Random Game Notes
- Blazers Owner Paul Allen was in attendance tonight and, despite the loss, had an uncommon smile and quip for a long-time Blazers writer after the game. Allen wore a hat that mostly covered the effects of his chemotherapy. If you're finding yourself searching for perspective after this team's recent performances, there's your perspective.
- Michael Beasley had a big night and it wasn't just what he did during the game (27 points and 8 rebounds). Beasley went through a rigorous warm-up routine, only stopping to go out of his way to shake hands and answer questions from a small group of children that had managed to find its way into the Rose Garden well before tip. Beasley's friendliness left the kids agog. "I touched him," one gushed. "He just made that jumper for me," another claimed. This type of scene happens regularly over the course of the season; The Blazers are amazingly accommodating when it comes to children, autograph seekers and the like. But it was pretty profound to see Beasley, who has weathered an emotional storm these past six months, appear genuinely happy, living up to the "Be Easy" nickname he has stitched on his adidas sneakers. His ruthlessness with the ball in his hands once the game started-- 12 free throw attempts, better than 50 percent from the field -- was equally profound.
- Unusual scenes both before and after the game for Shavlik Randolph, who was making his first return to the Rose City since signing with the Miami Heat. Before the game, Randolph was greeted like a Prom King, shaking hands with Blazers players, coaches, media members, fans, ushers, folding chairs, you name it. Had Randolph been so appreciated last year perhaps he would still be in a Blazers uniform, but I digress. He wasn't in anyone's uniform tonight, though, as he was on Miami's inactive list. He made the most of it by wearing an awesome cream suit.
- After the game, things got truly weird as I finally caught up to Randolph while he was boarding the Heat bus for the airport. He had just finished taking off his shoes and enduring a mandatory pat-down and magic wand wave, the Sebastian Telfair Security Screening, I believe it's called. The purpose, of course, is to ensure that no explosives or weapons find their way onto the team bus and plane. As soon as I got Randolph's attention he immediately broke into his typical ear-to-ear smile, his spirits particularly high thanks to what he called the Heat's "huge win" to start a tough road trip. Anyway, the hijinks really started when we attempted to shake hands. A security officer informed Randolph in a grave voice, "you can't touch him." After checking to make sure the officer was serious -- he was, the penalty for a handshake would have been going through the entire security process again -- Randolph hilariously signaled that we might settle for an "Air High Five." Which we did. I kid you not. All in all: a minor moment over the course of a long trip but a happy one for one of the happiest-go-luckiest guys in the NBA. Add Randolph's name to the list of recent former Blazers who find themselves in better situations once they've left town: Frye, Jack, Rodriguez, etc.
- And, also, start asking yourself which current Blazer might be next to find his name on that list. As the ugly losses add up, the whispers behind the scenes about player movement are growing louder and louder. The kind of whispers that might disappear if the ship gets righted? Probably.
- In other news, even with 3 key rotation players lost to injury, Jerryd Bayless makes the only shot he takes and doesn't commit a turnover yet only winds up with 3 minutes. Dot dot dot.
- In case you missed it before the game, Kevin Pelton and I put up the latest episode of our podcast: click here. Don't miss your chance to enter our contest for a free copy of KP2's book. The contest deadline is midnight Wednesday night. Some GREAT entries came in today.
Nate's Post-Game Comments
Did you feel undermanned?
Well, we got the guys we have. We gotta go with what we have. I've always felt like we need both units playing well. We just don't have enough guys playing well at the same time. We'll get three playing well or four or two and we need both units and pretty much all the guys we have to step in and play well. Shoot well, defend well. Because it's just not that much room or margin for error out there.
What'd you think about your defense in light of another 50+% shooting night for your opponent?
Again, I agree. Just defensively it's the third game that we've given up the first quarter. +30. We've dug ourselves a hole and we just can't get close enough and get stops. That's definitely something we haven't done well in the last three games.
You've got to get up closer. Are you capable of doing it? They're running their sets and getting open looks and they're knocking their shots down.
Problems on offense
You've got a lot of combinations, one. Offensively we had 87 shots tonight and we don't have everybody shooting well. We had one or two guys maybe knocking down shots and a couple of guys not knocking down shots. We get that thing within six, we turn the ball over or we have a bad possession. And just execution.
Greg was able to dominate at times but he had foul trouble early
You just coach the game. And of course it is (tough). You lose him early with two quick fouls. We had to play most of the half without him. We was able to get through the half down 10 but we need him on the floor. Both ways.
Considered leaving him in with 2 fouls?
Not with nine minutes in the first quarter. You know you don't take that risk.
Tonight, without LaMarcus, we basically gonna run through Brandon and Greg. We involved him in a lot of pick and rolls tonight to try to get some movement, spread their defense. I thought he had a little bit more activity tonight.
Is Brandon out of sorts?
Again, we're without LaMarcus tonight. That changes how we've played all season long. You lose a combination and you go to Brandon in some pick and rolls, some more movement, Greg is going to be your next option and you lose an option. Of course it's going to change how we attack and the things that we do.
With all the talk about the offense is there enough talk about the defense among the players?
There's talk about the game itself. How it's played. It's not just offense, it's not just defense, it's scrapping, it's hustling, it's trying to go harder than what we've shown. I thought it was better, I thought we competed more tonight than we did in our last two games. It's not just offense or defense, it's both ends of the floor for us.
What do you do from here?
Hopefully we get our guys back. The only way we're going to get out of this is if we work our way out of it, and we work our way out of it together. We get connected.
So you don't feel like this team is together right now?
Well that's the only way to get out of it. You talk about rhythm, you talk about adapting, and part of what we're doing right now is having to adapt to the different lineups, adapt to the adjustment of how we're playing. That's where we are at. The only way to do it is to work. Not start to point fingers or blame because that's not going to do any good. We have to do it together.
Howard and Dante played well in place of LaMarcus
I thought they did some good things but again we had other guys that didn't knock down shots, who we need to knock down shots and make plays. We have a couple of guys playing well but not as a unit.
Did you expect to be at 12-8 with this team?
Well with... you always think about injuries, that's a part of the game, so you kind of expect that. That somebody is going to go down. We didn't expect what has happened. To lose Nic, to lose Travis, today we get a notice that LaMarcus can't go. What you have to do is adapt to that. The guys who are in uniform have got to play, step up and fill in.
Our goal is to win 10 games each month. We were able to do that last month. We start a new month. At least 10 plus. Today we dropped this one. You can't calculat e with who is going to be injured or who is going to be healthy.
Lots of pick and rolls but the ball doesn't get to the person who rolls. Miami was playing off of the pick setter.
They played the same defense that Chicago plays. We had 30 assists that night and that was probably our best offensive movement. Part of that is the guards getting the ball out so you're right, you've got to get the ball out of that type of aggressive defense. You've got to trust your teammates.
I just think tonight mostly Brnadon was handling that ball in the pick and rolls and he was trying to be aggressive. The guys that was running up was Dante and Howard who were spreading and when we did get it out we got some good things. That type of defense you're looking for the ball to be kicked out and your bigs to duck in. We didn't get that as much as wanted.
We've gotta get the ball out (to the bigs).
You've got 3 days. What's your plan for the week practice-wise, what will you focus on?
We've got to just keep working. We've got to work on the defensive end of the floor. Both ends of the floor. Offensive and defensive. We have some practice days to work on it.
-- Ben Golliver | (firstname.lastname@example.org) | Twitter