With 11 games remaining in the regular season the Portland Trail Blazers have no secrets. They know what they want to do. Their opponent knows what they want to do. A blind guy hidden in a cave in Outer Mongolia would know what they want to do. Their plan of attack is not in question. Their ability to execute that plan has come under fire as the month of March has progressed. Tonight the Blazers executed well...in spurts. That was almost enough to overcome the similarly-struggling Miami Heat. But you can't spell "almost" without including an "L", which is exactly what the Blazers earned at the hands of the Heat, 93-91.
Portland's game plan runs like this:
--Hit more three pointers than the opponent, earning extra points beyond the arc.
--Hit more free throws than the opponent, earning extra points from the line.
--Attempt more shots than the opponent so those extra points add up to a win even if the opponent shoots a better percentage, scores more in the paint, gets transition buckets, etc.
For the first three quarters of this game the Blazers managed approximately .5 of these 3 keys to victory. The Blazers ended the game with an 11-39, 28% total from beyond the arc. 28% looks shoddy compared to Portland's 37% norm. But it looked dazzling compared to their horrific performance before the fourth period commenced. Shooting approximately 10 triples a quarter suggests you're on a hot streak. The Blazers went on a stubborn streak instead, firing blank after blank like the rims had turned oblong. It was as if the referees demanded that each player surrender exactly one contact lens for the evening.
Free throws provided the .5, mostly thanks to Damian Lillard. Portland's star guard got fouled on multiple drives, earning 14 charity tosses and hitting 12. The rest of the team attempted only 13 foul shots combined. But the stripe was enough to keep the Blazers afloat when Miami's defense kept other shots from falling.
But the third key--getting up more shots than the opponent--turned into an utter, dismal failure...mostly due to Portland's willingness to cough up the ball every 5 seconds for the first 36 minutes of the game. You name the turnover, the Blazers found a way to perfect it tonight. Direct passes to opponents? Check. Passes to teammates woefully out of position who then got stripped? Check. Bad spacing, feeding the ball into sideline and baseline traps? Check and check. The first half began to resemble a Miami layup drill. The Blazers ended up committing 15 TO's on the night for 21 Miami points. The game was decided by 2.
As you might expect, Portland was down by double-digits at the end of the third, saved only by Miami's inability to score with anybody not named LeBron James. But it looked like the Heat were gearing up for a game-winning run in the fourth when Portland's threes finally started falling. Mo Williams and Nicolas Batum hit one each, Wesley Matthews two as the Blazers surged back. Along with 11 free throw attempts in the period, this was enough to pull the Blazers even at 91 with 30 seconds remaining in regulation... just enough time for one possession a side. Everything that had come before was erased. The evening would boil down to superstar against superstar, LeBron James versus Damian Lillard with one shot apiece determining the outcome.
LeBron went first. He juked past Lillard, guarding him at the top of the arc in a zone matchup, then met Robin Lopez in the middle. Lopez cut off the direct right-hand drive to the rim. James went left instead and calmly flipped the ball off the backboard for the lead.
11 seconds remained but the Blazers did not call timeout, not wanting Miami's defensive bigs to enter the game for the final possession. After a brief snafu up high where both Lillard and Matthews came to receive the pass for the last shot (Um...Wes? Not you.) Damian took the ball in hand. He drove the left side of the lane, blew past a defender, and scooped a low layup for the tie. Miami's Chris Bosh--heretofore fairly quiet compared to his normal, Blazer-destroying self--leaped into the air, tipped away the attempt cleanly, and the clock expired before the Blazers could corral for another shot. A mighty fourth-quarter effort went for naught as the Heat walked away with the win, Bosh man-strutting all the way.
The nature of the game called for two responses:
1. Heck of an effort, guys! That fourth-quarter comeback was great.
2. You, uh, do know that the Heat were there for the picking and if you had played one and a half quarters of intense, smart basketball instead of just one quarter, you probably would have won the game, right? Or maybe if for five minutes you could have stopped throwing it right into their hands and letting them dunk on the run-out?
But then, that's the 2013-14 Trail Blazers. If it's not close, it's not worth winning.
Credit the Heat defense for holding the Blazers to 38% shooting overall and the aforementioned 28% from the arc. Were it not for 24-27 foul shots made the Blazers wouldn't have broken 80 in this game. The line was their only friend.
Also credit the Heat for knowing Portland's strengths and weaknesses, matching the former and taking advantage of the latter. Miami held the Blazers to 10 offensive rebounds and snagged 13 themselves. They took 10 more field goal attempts than the Blazers did, a big no-no in Blazer Land. They forced those 15 turnovers, scored 52 in the paint to Portland's 26...again these numbers point out that the Blazers did well to get this game to the final minute with a chance to win.
Damian Lillard scored a team-high 19 points, 21% of Portland's total. But all of that was from the line. He shot 3-15 from the field, 1-8 from distance. The bright spot: 6 assists to 1 turnover. The TO problem didn't belong to Dame tonight.
Nicolas Batum, on the other hand, committed 5 turnovers against 3 assists. Nobody guards LeBron James, so we'll give him a pass on that. Nic had 10 rebounds and 11 points, shooting 3-7 from distance...one of the only Blazers connecting from that range. He also hit the big three--an improbable corner fade--to give the Blazers their shot at winning the game.
Wesley Matthews couldn't buy a three to save his life, firing 3-11 beyond the arc. That hurts.
When we talk about Robin Lopez having a less-than-effective game we're usually mentioning mobile or jump-shooting centers. No such luck tonight. Lopez went up against the completely immobile Greg Oden and the largely non-threatening Chris Andersen. He didn't play worse than they but he didn't play better either. You hardly noticed him...not something we often say of Lopez. He ended up with a quiet 10 points and 8 rebounds in 33 minutes. Oden had 4 and 3 in 15 minutes, Birdman 13 and 11 in 23 minutes. The Blazers went into a zone in the fourth to help keep Robin stationary and contain Miami's paint attack which had been brutalizing Lopez and company all night. The zone worked...until it didn't. Hopefully this kind of game doesn't become a pattern for the usually-feisty Lopez. If the Blazers don't get a nightly dose of Super Robin they're done for.
Dorell Wright didn't get killed by Chris Bosh in the power forward matchup. That's something. Of course Miami ignored Bosh most of the night, but we'll take it. Wright did commit 3 turnovers in 19 minutes of play.
Mo Williams made the most of 32 bench minutes, shooting 5-12 for 17 points...only 2 short of Lillard. He committed 0 turnovers, helping stem the flood.
Thomas Robinson had a good night, scoring 8 with 6 rebounds in 15 minutes. 2 turnovers and 2 personal fouls provided the only black marks on his record. But errors of commission are better than errors of omission in a game where your team struggles with scoring, tempo, and continuity anyway. Robinson helped bust the Blazers out of their rut and into actually competing.
Meyers Leonard? Not so much. And playing Leonard and Robinson together--as the Blazers are now forced to do--is like watching the train barreling down towards the heroine tied to the tracks. You have to hope something changes soon and you're wondering if it'll happen in time.
Then you remember that change means more minutes for Wright at power forward and you throw up your hands in dismay.
Will Barton scored 4 with an assist and a block in 10 minutes.
This loss marked Portland's 7th in their last 10 games. They're now 1 loss ahead of Golden State with 11 games remaining.
The Blazers cruise into Orlando tomorrow night. That game has the potential to be exciting and fun...provided they want it to be.
Your Jersey Contest scores and the form for tomorrow are HERE. Tonight's Answers: Batum plays 40 minutes, Lillard scores 19 points, Blazers win 2 quarters, and Miami fields the leading scorer. smleary87 scored 92 out of a possible 100 for this game. MavetheGreat still leads the month with a 62.6 average over 11 games, 689 points total.