In a Nutshell
On a night when the New Orleans Hornets wear uniforms as ugly as your great-grandmother's drapes the Blazers oblige them by playing ugly for most of the game before turning on the hustle to edge ahead and take the game. New Orleans has chances but blows them like a 4-23 does.
I'm going to spare you the blow-by-blow in this one in case you have anything on your stomach. Suffice it to say that whatever the Blazers were playing out there tonight, it wasn't basketball. Consider that they shot 52% for the game and they never really experienced horrible droughts. In fact their outside shooters were better than we've seen in a long time. How do you trail one of the worst teams in the league while shooting that well? You don't rebound. You turn over the ball. You lose track of people on defense. The Blazers did all three and more for the better part of three quarters. They'd get three people back in transition when five were needed. They'd cut off the strong side drive with extra men but never rotate on the weak side, leaving Hornets open after a simple pass. They did everything but go inside on offense, getting few easies and drawing no fouls. It was the kind of game that made you want to yell at your TV all night.
Portland rode hot shooting by Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton plus some great energy from Gerald Wallace to stay in striking distance of the Hornets. Trailing by 9 midway through the third period they turned it on late, courtesy of Crawford's hot hand and Wallace's hustle, exiting that quarter with a 70-67 lead. Then when the Hornets tried to come back Portland suddenly began doing all the things they sloughed off on earlier: rebounding, trapping and forcing turnovers instead of committing them, getting tough on the interior on defense, bothering to pass around the Hornets on offense instead of dishing once and shooting contested. Even so they couldn't get farther than a half-dozen ahead and New Orleans didn't give up, being that close to a rare win. When Al-Farouq Aminu hit an improbable three with 48 seconds remaining the Hornets were within 2. Unfortunately for them they seemed to intentionally foul on the ensuing possession. This is the second time we've seen that strategy under a minute but with another possession left on the clock this season. Maybe somebody who's a coach or expert statistician will explain why you don't just defend and get the ball back for the tie or win. It seems silly to grant near-automatic points when you've rallied to get that close. But the Hornets did, the Blazers hit their free throws, dodged a wide-open Marco Belinelli three, and iced the game from the foul line. Portland emerges victorious, 94-86.
Portland's bigs looked S-L-O-W out there tonight. Also one wonders how LaMarcus Aldridge gets only 12 shots in a game that's going this poorly. Yes, the Hornets were swarming him but no worse than every other team the Blazers face. When the team needs him he has to get in position, fight like heck, and then demand the ball. Had Portland's guards not been connecting from the perimeter in near-unprecedented fashion this would have been a loss and the team's best player pretty much would have watched it happen. Maybe the team is still covering for illnesses or something. If not, it's up to Aldridge and his teammates to make him the superstar the Blazers need every night.
It's not like LaMarcus wasn't connecting when he had the ball. He shot 7-12 for 14 points. He had 7 rebounds...not great against range-challenged opponents. He was around the key tonight but boards were going elsewhere. He had 4 assists. He should have had 8 more shots.
Gerald Wallace once again looked like the only Blazer who gave a darn on defense for much of the game. He was trying to pump up his teammates but they were wet blankets tonight. He hit 6-9 attempts, scoring well at the rim, and had 7 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Marcus Camby had 7 rebounds in 20 minutes. It's hard to blame him for Portland's rebounding woes with that kind of rate. At the same time, he was one of the guys moving like molasses.
Raymond Felton shot wonderfully from the perimeter, at least compared to his norm. He went 6-10 tonight for 18 points and even squared up on the jumper a few times. It's marvelous what a few fundamentals can do. He had 6 assists. Unfortunately he also had 5 turnovers.
Jamal Crawford played the hero off the bench tonight, shooting 10-16, 9-10 from the foul line, for 31 sorely-needed points. Let's put that in perspective. The Blazers only scored 94 in the game. He accounted for 1/3 of Portland's production. It's not like he got lucky with triples either, going only 2-7 from distance. He worked for those points, breaking down the defense and either pulling up or dishing. He also had 8 assists. He looked like he was moving at the speed of light compared to most of his teammates in the halfcourt. He was also the only player who looked like he had a clue, even if that clue was often leading him towards his own shot.
You know how the Eskimos supposedly have 20 different words for snow? The Blazers need 20 different words for how badly Wesley Matthews is playing right now. Other than a couple steals, just don't ask.
Nicolas Batum, on the other hand, found a way to impact the game on a night when he had only 6 shots, connecting on but 2, going 1-4 on his newly-beloved distance shot. He had 5 rebounds, which the Blazers needed, 5 steals, and 2 blocks. Well done.
Kurt Thomas played 14 OK minutes.
Elliot Williams missed 3 shots from the field and 2 from the foul line in 5 minutes, committing 2 fouls and getting 1 assist on a baseline wrap-around pass to Gerald Wallace in the process. That assist didn't outweigh the rest. He didn't see the game again.
Fun With Numbers
- Hornets 14 offensive rebounds and they win the rebounding battle overall on a night when they missed far more shots than did the Blazers. Who was working harder?
- New Orleans 54 points in the paint to Portland's 30. Who was working harder?
- Everything else but the shooting percentage (Portland 51.5%, New Orleans 44%) was pretty close.
A road win is a treasure but epic fail for only playing 8 guys (E-Will's 5 minutes doesn't really count) on the first of a road back-to-back when the opponent has a 15% winning percentage and tomorrow's opponent is Dallas. Don't blame Coach McMillan. The starters could have gotten rest by giving more effort early and finishing this instead of playing just good enough not to lose for 44 of 48 minutes.
You can read about New Orleans' hope and/or lack of patience with results like this at At The Hive.