The Brooklyn Nets defeated the Portland Trail Blazers, 111-93, at the Rose Garden on Wednesday night, dropping Portland's record to 33-38.
The next time Blazers guard Damian Lillard is searching for a vignette for his anti-bullying campaign, he needs only reference the punishment applied to teammate Meyers Leonard in this one. Leonard wasn't the only victim, but he was the least prepared for the mauling, he got it the worst, and he was left in downtrodden shape afterwards. He hung his head after badly missing a jumper as he jogged down court at one point, trying to shake away the struggle. The memories of being punked possession after possession in the paint came flooding back in the locker room. How easily he had been moved out of the way, how helpless he had been in the face of stronger, tougher, more tested opponents.
"I looked up at the board and it was 18-3 rebounds at one point," Leonard told Blazersedge, referencing Brooklyn's rebounding disparity advantage. "It just kept going up and up and up. Which is unbelievable. It's on me, it's on the rest of us. It's embarrassing. Especially for me, I take it very personal when I get scored on, I don't like it."
Lillard, dressing at the next locker as Leonard made those comments, co-signed all the way just moments later.
"It was an embarrassing effort," Lillard, who finished with 15 points (on four-for-12 shooting), four rebounds and three assists, told Blazersedge. "I don't know a better way to say it. How the game went, the mistakes we made, it was embarrassing."
After sticking tightly to a "never say die" mantra and performing well, at times, on their recent road trip, the Blazers rolled over here, and they know it.
"We didn't come like a team that wants to make a push for the playoffs," Lillard said. "That's what we say we want to do and we didn't play like it."
Leonard didn't like getting scored upon but there was nothing he could do about it. Leonard, J.J. Hickson, LaMarcus Aldridge -- all of them, whooped so soundly it often looked like USA Basketball trouncing through no-name countries in London last summer. Gerald Wallace attacked the heart of Portland's defense, encountering no resistance, and Brook Lopez, who finished with a game-high 28 points and five rebounds, got whatever he wanted in isolation.
And then there was Reggie Evans, who finished with 22 points (on nine-for-13 shooting) and a career-high 26 rebounds in 35 minutes.
"He's an animal," Lopez said.
"He rebounds, it's not a surprise he got rebounds," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. "Twenty six -- that's another story. For him to get three offensive rebounds in the first two minutes of the game when everybody knows that's what he does, and it has to be a focus, that's what he does. We didn't do much to take that away."
Portland wasn't stopping Evans' hyperactive, efficient and beefy night. He owned the action from the game's first minute, accumulating his boards in almost comical fashion. At halftime, he had out-rebounded the entire Blazers team by himself. At the end of three, Portland finally managed to pull past him, 22-21.
"The whole league knows what he does," Hickson said. "He did what he's capable of doing. It was at such a high rate and it was so early and often we really didn't respond as a team. It wasn't just him. Their whole team. They got offensive rebounds all night, that was the story."
"He's relentless," Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo added. "You see when he's not on the floor, all of a sudden, it's an adventure."
Evans isn't the type to sign a Respect Pledge; he would rather chew up the paper it was written on and then leave anyone who had a problem with that bruised and confused.
"I would say [they bullied us]," Hickson told Blazersedge, after finishing with eight points and seven rebounds."We definitely got punched in the mouth first and we didn't respond."
That isn't the first time Hickson's said that this season and it probably won't be the last. The 21-year-old Leonard, sporting a shiner on his face from practice, wasn't able to take the loss in stride in the same way. He gave a blank look -- and rightfully so -- to one media member who asked him what it would feel like to grab 26 rebounds in one game. He then opened up a bit on the shame side of things.
"I'm embarrassed with myself, not my teammates," Leonard clarified, after finishing with 11 points and nine rebounds in 25 minutes. "I don't like getting scored on, I gave up a few easy buckets in the post, got pushed under on some offensive rebounds, I've just got to play stronger, play tougher. It's a learning process, I've got to continue to work hard and get better."
Stotts elected not to question his team's toughness when served the opportunity on a platter, even on a night when Portland conceded 74 points in the paint and fell behind by 20 points in the first quarter. He first admitted that he "didn't have an explanation" for his team's "very discouraging" performance, but then pivoted to his favorite explanation, a lack of mental focus.
"My biggest concern with this team, most of the season, has been our consistency and our focus," he said. "For whatever reason the game after a road trip hasn't been one of our better efforts. If you go back and look at our games after road trips, they've been a struggle. Tonight was a struggle. I don't know whether to put it on the road trip or not, but I think it goes back to our mental preparation more than anything else."
In its first game back after the first road trip of the season, Portland lost 103-90 to the Los Angeles Clippers. After the second road trip of the season, Portland lost 99-80 to the Sacramento Kings. After the third road trip of the season, Portland beat the Orlando Magic 125-119 in overtime. After the fourth road trip of the season, Portland lost 102-98 to the Phoenix Suns. After the fifth road trip of the season, Portland lost 102-97 to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Stotts mentioned that history to his team in advance of Wednesday's game but the message, apparently, made no impact. The result: an 18-point defeat that wound up looking closer in the box score than it was for a vast majority of the night. Tally it up and the Blazers are now 1-5 in these situations, with the only win coming against one of the league's worst teams.
"For whatever reason, we just weren't there," Stotts lamented, just two days after saying that he wouldn't "bail" on the season out of respect to his players, who he claims compete hard every night.
"There's no excuse for it," Lillard told Blazersedge. "We've done it before, go on the road, win a few games, and we come back and we let our guard down. We don't treat it like we treat road games. We don't approach it the same. It just comes back to bite us."
Nicolas Batum (six points on 10 shots) and Wesley Matthews (five points on six shots) flat didn't show up. The bigs, as cataloged, got demolished. There was no energy at the start of the game yet again. Only Aldridge, who scored 24 points on 11-for-14 shooting while hobbling through an ankle injury, had any rhythm offensively and he sat down the stretch because of the ankle and because the game was out of reach.
Watching a deflated Stotts punt out of any meaningful critique of his team on a night like this seemed to carry its own silent message. This was a loss out of his control and, his lack of button-pushing hinted, one with which he was going to have to take on the chin. Just as Hickson resigned himself before the road trip to the team's slow starts, Stotts seemed to resign himself, finally, to his young team's place on the pecking order.
"It was a long night," he sighed.
No need to stretch this out any further with additional gory details.
Random Game Notes
- This game was announced as a sellout, which was only a teeny bit generous. It was crickets throughout most of the game, as you would expect, although there were some scattered boos and complaints towards the officials in the first half. A solid chunk of the crowd left early but those who stayed got into the game a bit when the Blazers' reserves made a fruitless fourth-quarter push.
- Stotts said the Blazers could learn a toughness lesson from the Grizzlies after a home loss earlier this month. This was another lesson, perhaps even more blunt. The Lopez, Evans and Wallace combination is a nightmare match-up for the Blazers, at least when they are fully engaged and the Nets are sticking to the correct game plan of shoving the ball down your throat.
- Hickson didn't want to admit that this was a matter of match-up issues inside: "That's not what beat us. We didn't play with any focus, they played harder than us basically. They're a one-on-one team, we know that going into the game, what their players do. We just weren't ready for it."
- Leonard on the impact of Evans' 12 offensive rebounds: "It was very depleting. If you think about it in your own shoes, when we get an offensive rebound, you can tell they're mad, they don't want to play another set of defense. They get frustrated and often times it ends up with a bucket after an offensive rebound. It's not fun but we've got to watch film, especially myself."
- It's probably crystal clear by now but I'm fully in the camp of letting Leonard play and chalking up the inevitable struggles that result as part of his longer-term growth process. He had a few good moments, finishing plays on offense, so that was something. The unbridled excitement he's shown earlier in the season -- the post-dunk reactions that Stotts hasn't approved of, for example -- are a product of not yet getting put into his place by the opposition. He got a real taste of that in this one, as his comments above should make clear. That part of the development process will happen sooner or later and it might as well happen now. In that vein, I would insert him into the starting lineup for the rest of the season.
- Lopez left the rebounding to Evans but, man, did he score the ball. Months pass between games at the Rose Garden in which an opposing seven-footer is that dominant and finds that type of diversified success on offense. Leonard on Lopez: "He's very good. He can shoot the ball, very skilled in the post, big, long, pretty decent athlete, knows how to find angles. He's tough. If you try to double not very aggressively, he can pick you apart, skip, skip, three. It was tough on us."
- One of the lowlights of Portland's season was allowing the lumbering Lopez to leak out for an easy transition dunk. Brutal.
- A post-game X-ray on Aldridge's sprained right ankle was negative. The Blazers sent out a note midway through the fourth quarter that he would be shut down for the night after he played through the injury for an extended portion of the game, totaling 31 minutes.
- Speaking of ankles, Victor Claver made his return to the court as expected. He told me afterwards that his ankle felt good during his seven minutes of action and that he feels close to 100 percent. "I had a good feeling. I had more strength than I had before. I think I'm going to be in good shape. Once I practice more days [getting to 100 percent] is going to be fast."
- Claver needs to get real minutes (20+) over the next two weeks just like Leonard and Eric Maynor.
- Lillard on Evans: "He's a really tough cover especially on the boards because he's physical, strong. When that ball hits the rim, he's moving guys out of the way, getting them off-balance. It's not like he's going above the rim to grab them, he's pushing guys around down there, getting to where he wants to get to."
- Lillard never looked particularly in sync on offense. He finished with five turnovers and didn't score until the third quarter. Lillard on his night: "I just missed shots. I don't think it was anything he did or what they did. I know they face-guarded me a lot of times. It was tough to even get the ball and get shots up. I wouldn't say it was anything to do with [Deron Williams'] size."
- I graded all thirty 2012 first-round picks for SI.com. Lillard received the only A.
- Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com reports on Twitter that former Blazers COO Sarah Mensah will join Jordan Brand as a "strategic planning director." Former Blazers president Larry Miller is now president of Jordan Brand.
- Poor Will Barton taking an inbounds pass to the head.
- Watching that game led to the conclusion that anything short of a first-round playoff series victory will be a big disappointment for the Nets, who are pretty sleeper-y right now, all things considered.
- Stotts can have a pass in season one but come next fall the "I don't know what's happening" lines will have worn out their welcome.
- Standings watch: Both the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz won on Wednesday, pushing Portland 3.5 games back of L.A. for the No.8 playoff seed, 2.5 games behind Utah and 2 games behind the Dallas Mavericks. That said, Portland is now 2 games up on the Mavericks for the No. 12 spot in the 2013 Draft order with 11 games to play. We're reaching the point where it's nearly a lock.
Terry Stotts' Post-Game Comments
That was obviously very discouraging. The way we came out and played in the beginning of the game. Reggie Evans set the tone early on with his three offensive rebounds, they had 11 points in the first two and a half minutes or so. For whatever reason, we just weren't there. They pretty much did whatever they wanted in the first quarter, and that set the tone for the rest of the game. I don't really have an explanation for it, they pretty much won every position. They were very effective. Other than watching the reserves play for the fourth quarter, it was a long night.
He rebounds, it's not a surprise he got rebounds. 26 -- that's another story. For him to get three offensive rebounds in the first two minutes of the game when everybody knows that's what he does, and it has to be a focus, that's what he does. We didn't do much to take that away.
Putting starters in at end?
Nope. That group deserved to see what they could do.
He tweaked it in the first, he wanted to come back and test it, see how it was feeling. It seemed like it was alright. I thought he was able to perform alright. I didn't have a check with the trainer now for an update.
Mental issues and toughness
My biggest concern with this team, most of the season, has been our consistency and our focus. For whatever reason the game after a road trip hasn't been one of our better efforts. If you go back and look at our games after road trips, they've been a struggle. Tonight was a struggle. I don't know whether to put it on the road trip or not, but I think it goes back to our mental preparation more than anything else.
He showed why he's an All-Star. He's extremely effective, he takes his time on the block, he's a very big man. He gets to where he wants to be on the court. We didn't do a very good job of holding him up in the first half. I thought we did a better job in the second half of taking that challenge. I didn't think we offered much resistance in the first half.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter