In a Nutshell
Go out to the middle of Kansas...not Topeka, but some little town of 200 or so in the sticks. Find the mom and pop store there, the kind with the decades-old cracked cola sign still hanging out front. Walk inside. Their selection of sushi will be better than Portland's shot selection tonight. The Blazers work around instead of through LaMarcus Aldridge, ignore the paint on offense, give up 19 fast break points, and register one of the uglier games of the season.
The game began with both teams hoisting bricks and bombs, punctuated by the occasional layup. Unless the shot was wide open--or defended by one of Portland's poorer defenders--it missed. You could call it a feeling-out process but if so it was the kind of feeling that you do blindfolded at those kids' Halloween parties, the ones where you take a plate of spaghetti and make people stick their hands in it, telling them it's brains. Gross. The only difference is, nobody had blindfolds. Perhaps they should have been issued, at least for the children.
Portland's second unit made the Rockets' offense look better. Then, missing Nicolas Batum and forced to use an odd rotation, the Blazers fielded a lineup of Jonny Flynn, Nolan Smith, Luke Babbitt, J.J. Hickson, and Hasheem Thabeet...a.k.a. the "White Flag Unit". The quarter ended with Houston up 24-17.
The second period featured more turnovers, bad transition defense, no touches for LaMarcus Aldridge, and no points in the paint unless they came off of offensive rebounds or infrequent Hickson moves. Houston led by 9, 49-40, at the half.
The Blazers mounted a comeback in the opening minutes of the third, finally getting the ball inside. They tied the game but couldn't take care of the ball or the lead for long, letting Houston run and score inside. The Rockets were back up by 6, 71-65, at the end of three.
With playoff position on the line and Portland not putting up a real fight the Rockets weren't about to let this game go. They scored 23 points in the frame. Only 4 of those were from more than 8 feet away, excluding foul shots. The Blazers, meanwhile, were happy to keep bombing in both senses of the word. The final horn was a relief. Houston wins 94-89.
The next time LaMarcus Aldridge shoots 7-15 in a lineup without Nicolas Batum that tally better be at halftime. Yes, the Rockets were watching him hard but no harder than other teams have all season. Four other players took 11 or more shots. Three of them were Raymond Felton, Wesley Matthews, and Jamal Crawford. For those three to combine for 37 shots while Aldridge attempted 15 on a night when the Blazers were struggling and playing a team that allows points in the paint is criminal negligence. But it's also indicative of Portland's mindset right now.
Luke Babbitt's been hot lately, but he took 7 shots in 22 minutes while Aldridge had 15 in 38. Obviously that's not Luke's fault. He just shoots the ball when they pass it to him, and appropriately so. It's not like he's dribbling out the shot clock and hogging the ball. The real question is, who's setting up this offense, and for whom? I don't think you have to look very far to get the answers, and they're about as ugly as Portland's sub-40% shooting clip in this game.
These will be brief, as given the performance they hardly matter.
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 20 with 6 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Good enough, but he should be tacking some shot charts on people's foreheads tonight with real, live push-pins.
Crawford was the next leading scorer with 18 but he shot 4-14 to do it. He did go 9-9 from the foul line with 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals. I'm not sure it was worth it.
Joel Przybilla played 20 minutes and grabbed 5 rebounds. He was one of the only sources of points in the paint for the Blazers with 6.
Raymond Felton went 6-11 for 14 points and 8 assists. Tune in to tomorrow's Videocast to hear what's right and wrong with this.
Wesley Matthews had 7 rebounds...well done. He also had 7 points on 3-12 shooting, 1-6 from distance. You don't need a Videocast to know what's wrong with that.
J.J. Hickson did his best to right what was wrong, scoring 12 on 5-11 shooting in the lane with 10 rebounds, 5 offensive, and 2 blocks. At least he knows where the bucket is.
Luke Babbitt went 3-7 for 8 points. The feel-good story is real but at some point if we're going to talk reality we also have to address defense.
Nolan Smith played 16 minutes and had a couple good energy moments on each end despite missing all 3 of his shots and registering 0 points and 1 assist.
Smith got 16 minutes because Jonny Flynn played like he'd never met a basketball, let alone as a point guard. He attempted 5 shots in 4 minutes, hitting 2 for 4 points, committing 2 turnovers, and netting 0 assists.
Hasheem Thabeet had a rebound and a personal foul in 3 minutes.
Fun With Numbers
- Portland's bench scores 24 points in 77 combined minutes of play.
- Portland 32 points in the paint.
- Houston 19 fast break points and 38 points in the paint.
- Portland 6-21, 29%, from distance.
- How bad was Portland's guard/wing defense tonight? 19 fast break points for Houston, 10-19 shooting from beyond the arc (53%). and between them Goran Dragic, Kyle Lowry, and Courtney Lee combine for 47 of Houston's 94 points...half of their total production. This lies at the feet of the Portland guys who are so happy about their new-found offensive freedom. Big whoop.
Mike Rice said it halfway through the game: you could tell which team was fighting for playoff position tonight and which team was... ... ...as I recall he kind of trailed off there. Either that or my mind just shut out the horror.
The Dream Shake will recount this win.