USA TODAY Sports
Lack of rebounding, defense, and loose-ball hawking cost the Blazers dearly against the Orlando Magic.
The Portland Trail Blazers' offense looked pretty good in this game. Let's get that out of the way right off the top. At times it seemed like the Blazers were missing everything they threw at the rim but they finished the game shooting over 50%, scoring 46 in the lane, hitting 37% of their threes. They had 31 assists on 42 made buckets. While Orlando took 18 trips to the line compared to 12 for Portland free throws made ended up 11-10 for the Magic, a single-point gap. Portland's bench even managed a healthy (for them) 28 points, though a half-dozen of those were garbage-time illusion. No...the offense went just fine tonight.
Everything else stank like Limburger cheese.
Portland's rebounding was painful to watch. The Magic are a good defensive rebounding team but nobody holds the Blazers to 5 offensive boards, even on a great-shooting night. The Magic did. Oh, and they corralled 17 offensive rebounds themselves. 17. The Blazers missed 41 shots tonight, the Magic 46. But Orlando still out-rebounded Portland 50-38 overall. It was a glass kicking, pure and simple.
Then there was the defense. Big man rotations were late or absent all night. The smalls couldn't contain the Magic dribblers. Orlando averages 42 points in the paint per game on the season...a healthy number but not astonishing. They got 60 tonight. Offensive rebounds obviously accounted for many of those but the defensive breakdowns helped put Portland defenders out of rebounding position to begin with.
If the individual defensive efforts came up lacking, the problem doubled every time two Blazers got involved in a defensive play. Portland's pick and roll defense was atrocious tonight. Feet didn't move. Arms didn't move. Necks swiveled as Magic players scooted free for chip shots or jumpers, that was about it.
Nor did the Blazers get to loose balls. This was the most frustrating aspect of the night. Multiple times you'd go, "The ball's...right...there. Get it!" Then Orlando would scoop up the rock and be off on another offensive play. Rebounds hit the floor. I'm not sure I saw a Blazer player do so all night.
Keep in mind the Magic scored 61, 76, and 84 in three of their last five games. They had 55 at the half in this one.
This was the kind of game that makes you shake your head and wonder where this team's head is...or perhaps heart. We've seen multiple examples of the Blazers not quitting, pulling amazing games out of the fire. Many have involved incredible comebacks on much better teams. Yet we keep seeing games like this that should be easy wins somehow morphed into losses. Apparently the Blazers only know how to play one way: get behind by double-digits then make it a close game, no matter who the opponent is. Maybe better teams take those leads for granted and thus give them up? Teams like Orlando, staring down a dozen losses, start playing better when they believe they can win. Portland hasn't learned how to put down those lower-tier teams yet. That may well be the factor that keeps them out of the playoffs this year.
Yes, the Magic had J.J. Redick back tonight. (As we said a couple weeks ago, how good would he look as Portland's 6th man?) That meant they'd play a better game. But it shouldn't have been that much better. That was on Portland. And it's a shame.
2.5 players get a pass from the general castigation tonight.
Nicolas Batum finally put together a heady, aggressive offensive game from start to finish...something that's been missing for weeks. I had notes written about him taking open opportunities early on, and that was before he actually started hitting them. When the shot started falling it was like a breath of fresh air had swept through Portland's offense. Batum's defensive game also rose to more normal standards tonight and he was the one guy actually rebounding fairly well. 19 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 turnovers, 6-12 shooting, 4-6 from distance, and it's good to see you back, Mr. Batum.
Joel Freeland had his first really good game of the season tonight. He came in during the second half, started rebounding, made himself available for close shots at the rim, and gave the Blazers a huge shot in the arm at a position that had been limp all night. Freeland played 10 minutes, scored 6 on 3-4 shooting, dished 2 assists, and above all grabbed 6 rebounds. Only 3 other Blazers topped his rebounding production and they all played between 31-39 minutes.
LaMarcus Aldridge was deadly with the catch-and-shoot jumper tonight...sick on target stuff. He shot 12-21 for 25 points, adding 5 assists. That's all good. The 6 defensive rebounds seemed a little shy and the defensive mobility wasn't there. Props to Nikola Vucevic for doing an amazing job on LMA in the post as well.
Damian Lillard had 12 assists. That was fantastic. He shot 1-16 from the field which was less so. That wasn't a huge surprise if you watched his release tonight. He was squared up on exactly 1 shot. Guess which one it was? Other than that his legs were mis-aligned, he was drifting, his shot was pure as the driven snow...providing "driven" means "driven over by a fleet of mud-caked dump trucks and then assaulted by a pack of laxative-filled Saint Bernards". Not to worry, though. One of the ongoing dialogues in the comment section recently has been how much of a given player's horribleness can be attributed to youth or rookie status. The answer: it depends on what kind of horrible. Fortunately this kind is fairly age-dependent. It's really hard to analyze one's own form issues on the fly, figuring out what's going wrong with the shot. Developing the necessary feel to make corrections takes a ton of repetitions and plenty of game experience. Most of the time when Lillard's shot goes south he finds a streak somewhere in the game where it returns...a brief but flashy 8 point run. Spin that wheel often enough, though, and you're going to come up empty once or twice. Tonight was his night.
J.J. Hickson had 11 points and 7 rebounds tonight but he pretty much got handled on the boards and defensively. By comparison Vucevic had 19 rebounds.
Victor Claver did fine in his 14 minutes, hitting a couple shots and providing the ever-present hustle. This guy always has his head up and eyes open.
Luke Babbitt hit a couple of threes. When he's still and in rhythm it's unfair that his shots only count for 3. They should be, like, 5 pointers because they're that pretty. It's been a while since we've seen pretty from him. It's too bad the team couldn't step up more and make his 2-3 night count.
Meyers Leonard hit 2 shots out of 2. The rest of his game isn't a discussion for polite company. Let's just say there's a reason Freeland got the second-half minutes instead of Leonard.
Nolan Smith picked up some garbage-time points and Will Barton hit a bucket but wasn't defending well.
Time to erase this game because the Blazers face Miami on Tuesday. They'll probably look great in that contest, making you wonder where it was against the Magic. Young teams are hard to live with sometimes. Then again, with a .500-level record and making noise about the
Orlando Pinstriped Post will be relieved to not have to talk about streaks anymore. They also have quotes from the participants, including Damian Lillard.