The good news here is that the Blazers are going to make national news finally.
The bad news, of course, is that it'll be for providing the 1-12 Washington Wizards their only win of the season.
Thank heavens James Harden is returning to Oklahoma City tonight. That'll soak up most of the press. Let's hope Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook hold him down and shave his beard. That ought to distract folks enough.
As far as this game, you can read Timmay's blow-by-blow account here. And this game blew. A lot.
The Blazers weren't without moment. They had two brilliant runs. One came at the outset when the Wizards, apparently having read the scouting report upside-down, allowed Portland shooters plenty of open space to fire. Portland stormed to a 20-9 lead. The Wizards ate away at that lead and ended up reversing it, leading by 15 early in the fourth. Then they tightened up like an ichthyologist asking Jessica Alba for a date. Portland smelled blood in the water and stormed back behind great defense, good rebounding, and sweet shooting to take a small lead. The Wizards countered. Washington ended up ahead by 2 with 39 seconds left and the Blazers' final possessions went brick-turnover-brick. Game over. Washington wins.
How did Portland end up in this mess in the first place? They played stall ball most of the evening. Understand this: holding the ball in place is anathema to the Stotts offense. Sets that look brilliant when the ball moves quickly and players are cutting become turnover-prone messes when the ball stands still. It's the difference between pass-pass-cut-layup and dribble...dribble...dribble...I don't have a shot...passssssssssss... Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor are going to eat your lunch if you try that. It'd be different if the Blazers had dominant attackers off the dribble but most of these guys have trouble getting their own shot. It ends up all stall and no points.
Outside of the two runs mentioned above the Blazers scored only on three-pointers or offensive rebound put-backs. Everything that wasn't a distance shot or a second chance point was a disaster. But how many threes can you hit and how many rebounds can you get with Okafor, Kevin Seraphin, and Nene on the other side? Portland ended up living by the three and dying by it. Even heroic work from J.J. Hickson on the glass and some prodigious distance shooting by Nicolas Batum couldn't bail them out.
The starters had one great streak of defensive energy, that being the fourth-quarter run. The bench actually provided a defensive lift of sorts in the second period after the starters had played a mostly-passive first. To be fair, the Blazers did a decent job of interior defense most of the evening. They held Washington to 18 points in the paint. (Side Note: Portland scored only 24 points in the paint themselves. I find it hard to imagine that anyone else has beat their opponent in this category with a lower number this year.) But outside of those few positives and some turnovers forced, the Blazers night was a litany of blown screen coverage, slow rotation, and the same propensity to walk around on defense that they showed on offense.
If you're looking for any greater meaning in this loss, there isn't any. It's only remarkable because Washington hadn't yet won this season. But the Blazers are going to lose any game they play and/or approach in this fashion no matter the opponent. Other than resolving to put in more energy and pay more attention to detail, this is a contest best forgotten. James Harden, James Harden, James Harden.
J.J. Hickson was incredible on the boards tonight, snagging 19. He also shot 6-8 for 15 points. (He earned 7 free throws, hitting only 3.) After pre-season I opined that Hickson was many things but not a center. That still holds true on defense. But his rebounding acumen, hustle, and the way he fights all deserve respect. Whatever limits he might have at his current position he's out there doing something just about every game. The Blazers need more of that.
Nicolas Batum had the three-point stroke going tonight, hitting 5 of 10 attempts. He scored 20 and looked to have the Wizards flustered. The only critique is that he kept lofting threes long after they stopped falling and seldom attacked in any other way. He took only 5 attempts inside the arc and earned only 4 free throws. You can't argue with his shooting brilliance but mixing it up might have been the breakthrough that turned this from a nice game to a dominant one for him.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 17 points on 8-19 shooting. He never really got in rhythm on either end. He drew 5 personal fouls, had 6 defensive rebounds, and only combined with the other hot hands a couple times. There's nothing wrong with Aldridge taking over the ball a little, but you'd hope it'd be in pursuit of paint points and not jumpers.
Damian Lillard scored 20, which was nifty. He took 21 shots to do it and hit but 6, which was less nifty. He had 5 assists. The glaring flaw in his offensive game right now is the inability to score at the rim. To paraphrase something I left in last night's comments, his jumper is a finely-aged Bordeaux but his drives finish like a $2 box of champagne. He might want to experiment with a stop-and-pop in the lane to make defenders guess because he's not getting any clear looks at the rim inside four feet.
Wesley Matthews went 2-10 for 6 points. That usually equates to a poor overall game for him and tonight was no exception.
Meyers Leonard had 7 rebounds in 15 minutes which was great, great, great. That's the area of his game you wish would pick up. He's also gotten far more physical on defense since the season started, another plus. His overall defense wasn't good tonight, especially away from the hoop.
Will Barton scored half of Portland's bench points tonight. Unfortunately that totaled exactly 2, and on 1-4 shooting to boot. Still he continued to look more confident and in the flow than he did earlier in the year.
Ronnie Price and Jared Jeffries both had defensive problems tonight. Sasha Pavlovic did OK, mostly a neutral night for him.
A Wizards fan wrote and asked, since I decorated this game's preview with poetry in anticipation of a Portland win against miserable Washington, would I do the same in the post-game piece if the Wizards came up with the win? We're good sports here, so here you go, Wizards Fan. You deserve it. It's to Beethoven's famous "Ode to Joy", chorus twice at the end if you please. Go ahead and sing it loud.
Sound the trumpet, raise the banners, let the bells peal out and ring
Wizards faithful, you're no longer stuck on 0-for-everything
You just beat us, did defeat us, shamed us all and darn the luck
Washington emerged victorious and the Blazers really suck
Our bench doomed us, bricks entombed us, boards and treys were no avail
Celebrate, rejoice, oh Wizards, gloat o'er Portland's epic fail
The boxscore, from which Blazers fans will glean much misery.
Bullets Forever should have an unusual, and mostly-all-bold-and-caps, report about this game.
Portland Trail Blazer tickets for all games are available from Blazer's Edge sponsor TiqIQ.