Tonight's Summer League loss to the Denver Nuggets was brutal.
The team's lethargic, unfocused, undisciplined play was nearly unwatchable for Blazers fans and observers who have come to expect a team that brings it every night, plays smart and often plays above its head. Tonight, observers, at least those that made it through the whole game, were treated to a team that didn't bring any intensity to the defensive end or to the glass, played uncertain, unintelligent team basketball, and allowed Denver's full court press to make them look much worse than we've seen earlier this week.
Summer League Coach Joe Prunty called the overall team effort "unacceptable" roughly 15 times in 6 minutes during his postgame media availability and ended one memorable, frustrated flourish with a jab at the team's collective heart: "There's a point where you've got to have pride." He followed that jab with a knockout right when asked how he felt, "I'm not happy. I'm not sure what to say. I don't want to lose. I don't understand the question." Prunty was seriously pissed.
Certainly the absence of the team's leading scorer coming into the game, Dante Cunningham, made life much more difficult tonight. Cunningham was sidelined by a left groin injury and did a nice job of encouraging his teammates from the bench, but his absence was noticeable and left Jerryd Bayless fighting what he called "an uphill battle." After the game, Bayless lamented, "We need Dante. It was evident... it made it tough when they were doubling me in the backcourt. They were trying to take the ball out of my hands. It's tough when there's two guys on me. They were doubling me and what am I supposed to do? It's just tough." There was nothing he could do; it was an exercise in futility.
On paper, the game seemed like it would be a matchup between the Blazers' supposed point guard of the future, Bayless, and a player the team was rumored to have interest in on draft night, University of North Carolina product Ty Lawson. The Nuggets' trapping defense prevented a true head-to-head matchup, as they took the ball out of Bayless's hands and made the rest of the depleted Blazers beat them offensively -- which never happened. Lawson finished with a superb line of 26 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 turnovers, besting Bayless's 19 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 6 turnovers.
Nevertheless, after the game Bayless seemed to claim that he had succeeded in shutting down Lawson, "When I was on him I think it showed it wasn't going to happen like that." Instead, Bayless pointed to his teammates' mental breakdowns, "We gotta know the scouting reports on people. We were trying to make Ty shoot the ball. But when I got switched off on him [and the shot clock was running down] we would get up on him, you can't pressure someone that fast. He's too fast for that." Although Bayless otherwise did a solid job of containing his frustration, he appeared to be growing weary of the talent gap that exists between himself and some of his teammates.
Second round draft choice Jeff Pendergraph struggled on offense, converting just 3 of 11 field goals for 7 points. He also added 9 boards. After the game, he spoke in near-monotone and seemed like a completely different person than he was just two days earlier. To a series of questions he provided the following answers: "I'm pissed.... I hate losing... Losing, period... Just losing... I hate losing." Ouch.
Blazers Head Coach Nate McMillan addressed the team after the game for a number of minutes. While Prunty said McMillan's message was "normal, standard stuff" and Bayless said the heart of Nate's speech had to "stay between the team," Pendergraph summarized the speech, "Yeah, he wasn't happy at all. He just was not happy. At all. He didn't curse anyone out or anything but he was not pleased with how we played at all."
I don't think anyone was. At least there's another game tomorrow.
-- Ben (email@example.com)
PS Despite the loss Pendergraph was good for a solid quib. Asked to explain how he received a scratch near his nose, The Graph noted, "Somebody didn't cut they damn nails."
PPS Bayless went down late in the fourth quarter with "right calf spasms." He sported big ice packs on both legs after the game but said he was fine and "hoped to play" tomorrow night. He is listed as day-to-day.
PPS Both Coach Prunty and Bayless singled out diminutive point guard Pooh Jeter (15 points on 5 of 10 shooting) for praise. However neither wanted to talk about anything positive.
PPPPS 0-5 for the week is well within this team's grasp.