Sorry I got to this recap late. I got called away for emergency purposes and had to watch the game late. As it turned out, I needn't have bothered. The Blazers started out the game turning over the ball like it was buttered and allowing the Rockets anything they wanted in the paint as far as scoring. Portland's own offense was stunted by a lack of penetration. The Blazers hit some outside shots early but you knew that spelled trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for PLEASE stop missing open jumpers!
Side-step for analysis here: Portland's starting lineup is trying to run sets designed for dribblers with a distinct lack of dribblers...a shortcoming we've mentioned for about three games straight now. This makes defending those sets criminally easy. No matter how many J's Nicolas Batum or Wesley Matthews hit the opponent will be well-pleased to have them carrying the bulk of the offense from outside. Either Brandon Roy or Gerald Wallace has to enter the starting lineup to balance out the shooters and non-ball-handlers.
By the second period Houston had their schtick down for the night. They just packed the paint and lived with any kind of jumper Portland put up. How amazingly well it worked! Any time the Blazers tried to penetrate via pass the Rockets simply stuck six hands on the ball and took it away. Any time the Blazers drove they found themselves double teamed (at least). Offensive rebounds? Forget it with four Rockets in the paint. LaMarcus Aldridge barely got up a shot under these conditions. Meanwhile the Rockets were running and gunning with Kyle Lowry hitting multiple threes, Chase Budinger streaking everywhere, and Patrick Patterson (for Pete's sake!) offensive rebounding and playing like he was the only big on the floor amidst a bunch of kindergarteners. Houston closed the half with a serious run then opened the third with another and this game was finished. The Blazers never got beyond their reliance on the outside shot. Every time Portland entered the paint the Rockets made them look stunted and awkward. Every time the Blazers tried to run the Rockets made them look stupid. 103-87 was your final and it wasn't that close.
If you want bright spots in this game, two guys came to play: Nicolas Batum and Gerald Wallace. Batum was all over the floor in the first half, burning the nets and poking at the ball when Houston had it. He played with so much energy and aggressiveness throughout this game that you could almost forget his jumper looks as reliable as a Yugo. He had 22 points. Wallace had 14 plus 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals. He displayed the whole offensive repertoire, getting to the rim and hitting threes. He also grabbed boards like a monster and kept playing the good defense we've come to expect in his 2 games here. The Blazers would do well to rely on him more even if he is new. If a guy can play the piano you let him play. If he's better at that instrument than somebody else is at the tuba maybe the band needs a little more keyboard and a little less oompah-pah. If I were Nate McMillan and LaMarcus Aldridge I'd be sitting down with Wallace and saying we wanted him to be the #2 option most nights on the floor, working around Aldridge and Roy at different times.
Everybody else? Forget it. Brandon Roy went 2-7 and got only one clear look at the rim in a rough night on both ends of the floor. Marcus Camby looks as effective as a male enhancement pill right now. The less said about Wesley Matthews' 2-10 night the better. Andre Miller shot 6-11 but couldn't find anybody to pass to...at least not anybody who could do anything with it. You could could Aldridge's good, established low-post stands on about three fingers tonight. Patty Mills shot 4-8 but got butchered on defense by Goran Dragic and Kyle Lowry, easily giving back everything he scored. Collectively these guys were sketchy and confused on offense, slow, late, and ill-matched on defense...it was like everyone was playing in a fog.
Houston shot 57.9% behind blistering tempo in the first half and depending on the Blazers to only play 20 seconds out of 24 on defense in the second. Houston scored 52 points in the paint, the Blazers 26. That's right, Portland got doubled up in the lane. The Blazers committed 15 turnovers, had only 9 offensive rebounds, shot 15 percentage points lower than their opponent...ugh.
The Blazers have served notice that their good trends, at least to this point, come out of the blue and usually against lousy teams. If Portland is on a roll they're hard to get off it. But if the Blazers aren't on a roll, particularly if that non-roll proceeds from good defense against LaMarcus Aldridge, there's little or nothing they can do to manufacture momentum. Their success is up to the fates at this point. The bad news is that the fates don't usually shine on teams with schedules as rough as Portland's is in the last month of the season. If the Blazers had any hopes of claiming playoff seeds above the worst they needed games like this one and the one against Atlanta. That didn't happen. There's plenty to root for with this team and plenty of excitement surrounding them, but if you're praying for a miraculous finish to the year and some playoff world-shocking, nights like this should cure you of that. In the exact moments they should be steely-eyed and dominant the Blazers instead show up as mealy-eyed doormats. Instead of being on their way they're still in limbo. This game was a check to see how seriously the Blazers are going to take the playoff-seeding run. We showed up with our clipboards, stopwatches, and expectations. They overslept.
Hear about one of the performances of the year at The Dream Shake.
Jersey Contest form for tomorrow's game against Sacramento.
Time is running out for you to help send an otherwise-unable-to-go kid to Blazersedge Night on April 1st against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Please take a moment and a few bucks to help out. Here's how.