This was one strange game...an ugly-fest for sure.
I don't think there's a heck of a lot to be gained by talking about the Blazers' overall performance. Why we lost is simple: lack of energy, lack of rebounding, lack of the ability to get (or set each other up for) good shots. When the Rockets hammer you 48-30 on the boards and you shoot under 36% for the night you're going to lose.
What startled me more was how both teams were so far off of their best games. I mean, this game has to be filed with the office Christmas party pictures or that video tape your frat brother took as he busted in on you singing to yourself in the bathroom. It wasn't just Portland! Yao Ming played the worst game tonight I've seen from him since he was a rookie. It wasn't just missing shots...he never got shots, or position, or much of anything worthwhile save his 10 rebounds (many of them gifts for a person his size) and 8 free throw attempts. Houston seemed totally disinterested in pressing their advantage there and Yao seemed not to care. He took 8 shots for the game. Luis "I Do My Hair at Jiffy Lube" Scola took 10! Tracy McGrady shot 36%. Carl Landry was the only Rocket who had what you'd call an above-average night. This was doubly so for the Blazers. Brandon Roy scored 23 but he had 5 turnovers and the rest of his stat line was a flat line. Nobody rebounded particularly well, nobody shot particularly well, nobody passed particularly well. Watching this game was like seeing Ernest Borgnine competing the Miss USA pageant swimsuit contest. Taken in context it was a shock. Looked at in isolation? You just have to laugh.
What are the long-term lessons from this?
- If the Blazers don't come with energy the Blazers do not win. There's a lot of talk about the schedule but this is a marathon season for everybody. If we have guys hitting the wall or if we let the travel get to us we're in trouble. Older, more experienced bodies and minds will help with this someday but someday isn't now.
- The Rockets continued what has become a theme for Blazer opponents lately: jump the pick and roll, hound the passing lanes, clog the inside, and go ahead and let any Blazer beat you one-on-one. They are on to something too. The brilliance of our offense comes in the in-between moments: the beautiful pass, the sharp cut, the floor reversal, the staunch pick. Turn us into individual jackers and that beauty goes away. (Well, except when Super Trout makes an appearance.) The Mikes relayed Nate's assertion that we needed practice time and indeed we do. We have to retool a few things for the second half of the season because the league knows what we're doing and we've been good enough that they care now. The offense won't change wholesale, but we need a couple new wrinkles that allow us to prosecute our game plan in the face of pressure instead of just succumbing.
- We saw another reality of trying to win games without having had experience doing so: we're great when we're on but other teams' worst games usually beat our worst games. This as much as anything defines the great teams: their worst isn't that bad and is certainly better than most of their opponents'. We're not a great team yet, of course, but in order to be a good team we need to raise our floor along with admiring our ceiling.
I'm not sure these are worth belaboring much either. Even the guys that scored didn't register in their usual other categories (Brandon, Travis). And most of the guys didn't score.
However a HUGE dose of recognition needs to go to the one guy who brought it strong and left it out there on the court: Joel Przybilla. He was diving, running, and at least trying to rebound...this while having his hands more than full. Secondary recognition also goes to Lamarcus and Channing for the job they did on Yao. Lamarcus started the game guarding Yao and picked up two quick fouls. Channing replaced him and got a quick whistle. Przybilla then switched over and got a couple more. But they never let that take them out of the game. All three of them were hustling and, with a little help from their wingmen, managed to make Yao look pretty bad. Tonight's game ball absolutely goes to Joel. Standing ovation.
One-Sentence Game Summary:
This wasn't the end of the world, but with hyper-athletic Atlanta coming in for an early game on Sunday let's hope it's not out of the frying pan and into the fire.
P.S. People are speculating about what this loss could mean to our playoff chances. It doesn't help, of course, but it's not a disaster. The standings look a lot worse now but that's illusion...as was us seeming like we were so far up. We never had that big of a lead on the 10th place team to begin with and there were always going to be ups and downs. There are only two times the standings matter absolutely: when you're mathematically eliminated or on the last day of the season. If yesterday you thought the Blazers were going to make the playoffs I don't see why you wouldn't still today. It's way too early to start crowing about leading the division or being in 3rd or 4th place in the West. It's also way too early to get down and say we can't make it.
We're 7-5 on the month with 2 games remaining. We said January would be the first critical step in determining whether we could contend for a seed. At worst we'll end up 7-7 and it's likely to be 8-6 instead. That's not great, but it allows us to keep the cushion we built up in December. The February schedule is tough as well...7 solid playoff contenders in 14 games, many on the road, but there are some games in there where maybe we can make some hay. If we do make it to the post-season it won't be by running roughshod over the rest of the league. It will be by seizing our opportunities when they arise.
P.P.S. This, from Sabonis4Ever in the Gameday Thread, is a much better summary than I could have given:
Now that right there is funny stuff.