It's getting towards the middle of March, the Portland Trail Blazers are waist-deep in a playoff race and it's about time to start ramping up for a final month-long push. Unfortunately, tonight's mind-numbing 88-81 squeak-by win over the Sacramento Kings looked more like this push than this push. Playing against a clearly inferior and mostly uninterested opponent, the Blazers seemed determined to mess around and make life as difficult as possible for themselves. They scored just 1 point in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter and allowed an on-different-pages Kings team to come back from a 12 point deficit and briefly tie the game.
In the game's closing minutes, newly-acquired Marcus Camby saved the Blazers' hide, making a number of nice hustle plays - including multiple blocked shots - to lead a one-man defensive stand. But let's not get overly carried away praising Camby's 6 point, 8 rebound and 5 block performance. His own mental lapses were a reason that the game remained competitive longer than it should have been.
Watching Camby outlet pass the basketball tonight was like watching Andrew from Real World DC attempt to pick up women: uncomfortably and unnecessarily fast-paced and doomed to fail. Just slow down, bro. One step at a time. Step one: Don't start racing up the floor like the roadrunner for no reason. Step two: Aim your body towards someone wearing the same shirt and shorts combination as you. Step three: make sure your target is one of the smaller players on the court and, importantly, that he is looking in your direction. Step four: Don't throw the ball like you're Nolan Ryan in a Tinactin commercial. Leave some of the mustard in the bottle for the rest of the picnickers.
Camby's attempted tempo-pushing was likely the result of a coaching staff edict to run against one of the league's weakest defensive teams. Indeed the Blazers racked up 18 fast break points on 7 of 8 shooting, including a number of run out, uncontested layups and dunks. And of course there's a higher margin for error when the pace picks up, mistakes happen when people rush. But something as simple as an uncontested outlet pass should never result in 4 turnovers by the same player, even if he is playing in a new system and with new teammates. That's the result of a lack of communication and a lack of court awareness. The Blazers guards need to diligently support their new big in this trying time. Come back further, yell louder and flap those wings. And, please, Camby: Think before you fling.
Even more exasperating than Camby's careless turnovers were Rudy Fernandez's running, rolling, frolicking shot attempts. I'm calling for an intervention: friends don't let friends teardrop and fail. Any time you go to the teardrop/finger roll 3 times in 3 minutes and come up empty every time, it's a signal that you should put the tool back in the toolbox, lock the toolbox in your backyard shed, douse your shed in kerosene and then strike a match. In Rudy's case, because of the hair product, it would probably be a good idea to take an extra step backwards before striking the match. Paging the 86 Blazers consultants that attended Sloan on Saturday. Call up the numbers immediately; This is a crisis. Stop this man from destroying himself.
OK, enough already with the wisecracks. The Blazers won this because of Camby's late-game hustle and because of some balanced scoring that saw 5 guys reach double figures. Brandon Roy lead the way with 19 points but it took him 16 shots. A number of offensive possessions broke down with the ball in his hands. LaMarcus Aldridge was arguably worse, tallying 13 points on 15 shots, finishing with just 4 second-half points. Would you trade him for Carl Landry straight up? I wouldn't. But after tonight it feels like a fairer question than it might normally.
Aside from a phenomenal left-hand dunk, Roy once again dragged for most of this game. During his post-game comments, Nate McMillan seemed to point the finger at Andre Miller's inconsistent energy as a cause for concern (see the very last comment below) but I think it's the uncertainty surrounding Roy and his abilities to create clean looks and get to his spots that has the team dragging along with him. Roy is the tone setter. And right now his tone is... wait for it... flat.
Unfortunately, as Roy has noted multiple times, his rhythm and health will only come through patience. In the meantime, we're stuck watching the occasional soul-sucking and sloppy game. The Blazers team that showed up tonight would have been run out of the gym by the Golden State Warriors, Thursday's opponent, let alone any of the other Western Conference playoff teams.
The clock is ticking. Start pushing.
Random Game Notes
- Here's a link to audio from Tuesday morning's conversation with The Morning Sports Page. Interview starts at the 18 minute mark. Topics: Marcus Camby, Joel Przybilla, Sloan Conference.
- Brian T. Smith tweets that he "received a top-10 APSE award for column writing. Entry included stories about Andre Miller and team's perseverance through injuries." Congratulations.
- Tyreke Evans is the Rookie of the Year. Shut it down. That said, the Blazers did a much better job against Evans than they did earlier in the year, although his statistical lines were similar. Back in December, he went for 19-7-3. Tonight he went for 18-6-6. The biggest difference between the two nights was the extra shots Evans needed to get his points (19 field goal attempts tonight compared to just 9 attempts the last time around). Going bigger against Evans with Nicolas Batum and Martell Webster was really the only option with Roy "conserving so much energy" on defense. Evans is already at the stage of his career where he can do unstoppable things. Batum and Webster both worked valiantly to reduce the number of situations in which Evans could become unstoppable. His shot chart is littered with perimeter misses which is exactly what you want to see. Force him to shoot over the top of a defender because he turns the corner like Gale effing Sayers. It's possible that Evans gives Roy a serious run for his All Star money next season.
- Great piece by Wendell Maxey on the Kings' defensive approach against Brandon Roy.
- I asked Brandon Roy whether his hamstring has recovered to the point where he can push off both of his legs equally. He replied, "There's times I feel like ... I kind of have good days, bad days, good plays, bad plays. Sometimes I'll tweak it and I'll stay off of it for a little bit. It's something I've got to play with and try to deal with it." Asked if it was affecting his free throw shooting or balance (he struggled again at the line, going 3-7), Roy said, "Nah, I'm just missing today. Yeah, I was just missing those."
- Bayless: 0 for 4 from the field, 9 minutes. Hmmmmmm.....
- Travis Diener was activated tonight and Patty Mills has been moved to the inactive list. What a strange year for Patty Mills this has been.
- Cutting this short tonight because my body clock is all thrown off by the travel. Sorry about that.
Nate McMillan's Post-Game Press Conference
Well, we got the win. Of course we know we can play better and we're going to have to play better than we did down the stretch to win games, our remaining games.
Camby and his play down the stretch
I thought he was huge. We don't win the game tonight if he doesn't make some of the plays he made. He hit a baseline jumpshot, he had two blocks, he got on the floor for a loose ball on the defensive end of the floor which I thought gave us some life. Those were big plays. We got some stops, enough stops, to score some baskets and eventually get control of this game and put it away.
That's what you are looking for from Camby?
Yeah, well we are certainly hoping for that. Again, we've got to have everybody. We've got to have everybody if we're going to get to that level of play that we want to get to, everybody has to play with the same focus, same intensity, same scrappiness. Once you get that as a unit, then we're going to be stronger on the defensive end of the floor. He makes some plays and we need everybody to be focused in on stopping, controlling the ball and if there is a breakdown you have a guy like that who can cover for some breakdowns. But collectively we've got to do a better job.
Slow start at beginning of 4th quarter
We missed shots. I thought Rudy and Martell -- they had a 10-0 run I believe. We were missing some shots. You've got to make shots. From what I can recall they looked like pretty good shots. Rudy missed a layup, a floater, I think Martell had an open look during that time. You've got to put teams away. We've seen this before. Until I look at the film I can't say exactly what happened but I know we missed some open looks. You've got to make those shots.
Batum on Tyreke Evans
I thought he was better tonight guarding a penetrating guard or guy that's penetrating and he made his adjustments. He didn't get too excited about the match-up of him and Evans and he played him solid. I thought he kept him in front. We were a little concerned about him going into the post, he did a good job of getting over that UCLA cut, that high screen, to deny him post position and just making him work to catch the ball. I thought Martell did a pretty nice job of staying square, giving him a cushion and keeping him out of the paint.
Didn't rely on Roy tonight. Is that a positive?
Yeah, when you win. But we're going to need him. And we're going to need LaMarcus and we're going to need all of our guys. We're still in this race. We're going to have to play much better than we did tonight.
Did it seem like the team let up when leading by 9 points late in the game?
I don't know where that's coming from. We've just got to stay aggressive. That's what we are talking about. We've been in this situation, we've had some leads, we've given up some leads, we've had to win it down the stretch and we've given up games. We're playing a 48 minute game, that's what it's about. We should know by now.
Golden State has had your number
It's all about going down and playing basketball. Play defense. Execute offensively and go down there and take the game. They've been able to get the game to their tempo and I think we've gotten caught up in that tempo, turned the ball over, haven't made shots, haven't taken advantage of match-ups. They've been able to get the game at their pace and win those ballgames. We've got to do a better job of controlling the tempo, take advantage of going inside against this group. They play freelance basketball, it's not a lot of plays called. You've got to get down and guard your man because they're all going to come at you.
Do you attribute the late-game flatness to coaching or players or?
Well, coaching, whether it's coaching or players it's not getting through, you know, at times. I think it's both of us. The message got to get through and then we've got to get it done on the floor.
Andre Miller has kind of a laid back attitude. Do you need a more rah-rah type point guard in late-game situations to help provide a boost?
You see it. I don't want to call out our guys. We need to be aggressive, we need that intensity, so sure.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter