1. Life without LaMarcus Aldridge is hard. (Aldridge is reportedly considering a return on Thursday.)
2. Damian Lillard will score in Aldridge's absence, if nothing else through heroic drives into traffic and resulting fouls, but neither his efficiency nor Portland's overall offensive efficiency will benefit thereby.
3. If they don't score plenty the Blazers have no recourse. Nothing else works.
4. When nothing else works--and the offense isn't working either--it's hard to summon energy.
5. Without energy, without positive feedback and multiple things going right, the Blazers are a bad team, resembling last year's 13-game season finale losers far more than this year's barn-burning winners.
One of the popular definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. By that definition the Blazers, if not clinically insane, were at least a little loopy tonight. You may remember the Miami Heat defeated them last night by scoring inside and converting turnovers into fast breaks or quick scores. You might expect Portland's starters to come out ready to go tonight, taking care of the ball, getting back quickly in transition defense, rotating crisply and helping each other out in the lane. You would expect wrong. The Blazers started this game like it was a Sunday walk in the park with their three-year old while they were nursing a vicious hangover off of 3 hours of sleep. Orlando did everything Miami had done, with a little more hustle and a little less star-power. The result was the same. The Blazers got down, looked clueless, and the opponent gained confidence.
Portland actually turned it around late in the first when, for once, they forced turnovers instead of giving them up. Opportunistic, quick offense suits the Blazers well and they pulled ahead of the Magic exiting the first. This looked like a game.
Every once in a while I'll refer to my "game notes", things I jot down during the course of the game to assist in these recaps...my Rosetta Stone of analysis. Following the first quarter I have exactly six notes in the team section. (I'd normally have 40 or more in the last three periods.) They read:
--Bench can't rebound.
--No interior defense.
--Orlando scoring inside again and on the run.
--Penetration opening up Orlando's kick-out threes now. Ouch!
--Orlando rebounding even more now.
That's as good of a game summary as any. The Magic played with more energy and urgency than the Blazers did. They hit the boards. They moved the ball to open men. They helped each other out.
The Blazers had some good moments. It's not like they lost by 30. But they only got what the Magic gave them and then only briefly. Anything contested went Orlando's way.
The Magic did a masterful job exploiting Portland's defensive shortcomings especially. The following scenario played out a good half-dozen times:
1. A perimeter defender for the Blazers lets his guy free in the lane.
2. Robin Lopez, for better or worse, moves to stop the easy bucket.
3. With Lopez now absent, the Orlando dribbler passes to their center for a completely unopposed, nobody-came-to-help, dunk or layup...an easier deuce than the initial penetration would have provided.
You can tick off the weaknesses on your fingers. Wings don't contain their men. Lopez commits with enthusiasm but has no chance of getting back. Nobody rotates at all...ever....period. Orlando's roll gets bigger and faster and the lead grows.
The only thing worse might be watching Portland's bench defend. You don't even need the help and lack of rotation then. Driving opponents just score straight up against the best defense the Blazers can offer.
The piece de resistance was Portland's inability to keep the Magic off the boards. Orlando has a couple of nice bigs and it showed. Nothing I've described above has been a surprise to Blazer fans; it's been happening all season to one degree or another. But the Blazers could always count on rebounding to provide a foundation, to keep them in the game. Not tonight. Portland got 16 offensive rebounds, Orlando got 16 offensive rebounds.
The Blazers have also used three pointers and free throws to wriggle their way to victory on nights like this. Extra points make the game close even when you play sub-optimally. No luck tonight. Wesley Matthews fired 4-8 from beyond the arc. The rest of the team went 3-18. Portland shot 27% from long range. They managed only 17 free throw attempts to Orlando's 22. No help.
Don't think Coach Stotts failed to notice the direction this game took either. I've not seen so many frustration, cut-the-crap timeouts in a single game this season. One a couple of them he needed to tie a bandana around his forehead to keep veins from bursting. It didn't matter. No matter how many reminders, lineup shifts, and momentum-stalling tactics came forth the results ended up the same. The Blazers couldn't shoot, couldn't contain, couldn't rebound, and couldn't take care of the ball. How many ways to win remain?
Honestly, though, it was fun watching Orlando play with energy, share the ball, and rebound hard with 4-5 guys on most possessions. It reminded me of the pre-All-Star-Break Blazers.
Damian Lillard may have logged his worst game of the year tonight. He shot 5-17, scored 17, and added 0 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 turnovers, and 3 personal fouls. A 7-8 clip from the foul line was the only thing saving his night from oblivion. 0-4 on three-pointers hurts, especially since his three-point shot selection is starting to resemble a guy in a bar at last call, beer goggles fully engaged. "From this distance that shot looks attractive." From that distance the rim looks the size of a mini-donut. Pass.
No wait, don't pass. That'll be a turnover. Pass up the shot and try something else.
Nicolas Batum is morphing into some kind of weird, cautionary tale. Remember when you could more or less count on 8 assists and 8 rebounds a night, plus the occasional storm of points and flirting with a triple-double? Then Aldridge went down and Batum's rebounds soared. It looked like paradise. Then the assists started dwindling as Nic obsessed over rebounds. "No, Nicolas, no! A balanced diet is better! What? 13 rebounds and 4 assists? I think you may have a problem. I can make you an appointment with Rebounders Anonymous." Then it was like 18 rebounds and 3 assists a night, numbers so off the charts compared to his norm that you didn't know whether to cheer or be concerned. And now Nic is sitting under some rickety stairs, unshaven, clutching 9 rebounds and 3 assists while leaking half a dozen turnovers a night. He doesn't have any memorable good passes anymore, just spectacular failures. Tonight he scored 6 points on 3-9 shooting, 0-3 from distance, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, and 6 turnovers. When's the intervention?
Speaking of intervention, Robin Lopez looked like he wanted to become the stimulant shot that lifted his teammates out of their funk tonight. After the game started slow, he entered some sort of weird, freaky mode where every move he made was broadcast to the back row and every step he took was double-speed. On the one hand it was pretty cool to see. This is what Lopez looks like after six Red Bulls, huh? Cross that off my bucket list. And he did provide Portland's only credible offense early on, shooting 9-13 for 20 points and 13 rebounds. But man, Lopez is not a show-and-recover guy even under normal circumstances. When the show is twice as big, the opponent can hardly miss it, nor the fact that the recover is never going to happen. For Orlando it was like walking down the river and having a big bullfrog trying to block your way. Wow...that thing is huge. Look, he jumped over to the right side. Fortunately this river is 20 feet wide so...I'll just head left. Portland's offensive timing was off as well. Lopez rolled out of his picks quickly after they were set. The guards were like, "I think I'll use that scr...huh? Where'd he go?" The Magic ended up scoring 46 in the paint. Nikola Vucevic hit 10-18 for 22 points. Lopez's teammates never did catch on and up their energy in response to his. It held all the fascination (and effectiveness) of dancing a ballroom waltz while one guy in the middle starts tap dancing.
As noted above, Wesley Matthews finally found the range from the arc again, shooting 4-8 (5-13 overall) and scoring 18.
Exactly two stats stood out from Portland's bench tonight. Thomas Robinson grabbed 5 rebounds in 16 minutes (don't ask about the rest of the stat line) and Will Barton did himself proud with 7 points, 9 rebounds (take that, Nic!), 4 assists, a steal, and a block in 16 minutes. Barton's performance was the really nice music the doctor plays while giving you a colonoscopy.
(Public Service Announcement: Get one of those if you're over 50. They say it's important. You can think of Will as you do.)
Boxscore (But why?)
Orlando Pinstriped Post gets to write about a win tonight! The advantage to breaking somebody else's losing streak is that their writers will pump you up as a good team to make the achievement even bigger. The Blazers and their fans could use a little of that right now.
Here's an article on Phil Jackson and Jeannie Buss, just in case you thought the last three losses were the grossest thing to ever happen.
Here's my latest appearance on the Phil Naessens Show, all the way from Greece. We do this weekly now. Which means pretty soon I'm going to ask him to have me in-studio. Because, you know, Greece...
And here's the latest edition of the Trail Blazers' Running the Break feature with Dustin Hawes and local media. We do this weekly too. (Can you tell I'm giving you plenty of material to distract and cheer you up tonight?)
Your Jersey Contest results and the form for Thursday are HERE. For those who entered tonight's form, all four results were "Under".
I occasionally say funny stuff on Twitter @DaveDeckard and would probably say even funnier stuff if someone got in a flame war with me. You can keep up with everything the site publishes @Blazersedge.
Oh, and the Blazers are now tied with the Golden State Warriors at 27 losses each. Portland remains in the 5th spot in the West, Golden State in the 6th. In case you're curious Memphis at #7 has 28 losses, Dallas and Phoenix at 8 and 9 have 29 losses. The Blazers are 10 games behind the conference-leading Spurs, 2.5 games ahead of the 9th-place Suns with 10 games remaining.