Here's a Blazer's Edge inside story, folks.
See that picture above the article? It comes from a suite of photos from Getty and USAToday sports photographers. We pay them for the right to use their work with our articles, which is part of what makes the site look pretty.
After each game I scan photo looking for the one that best represents that night's recap. Tonight as I looked through, I noticed a startling similarity between the first dozen choices. Every one of them portrayed somebody staring off into space, some intently as Arron Afflalo is doing above, others looking up to the heavens, others giving the 1000-yard stare of utter despair. Even though the photos spanned the road trip-- not just tonight's game versus the Orlando Magic--the rogue's gallery of glumness seemed apropos. With a few exceptions, "looking on in despair" describes the Blazers' approach to this game...an approach which the Magic turned right back on them for a 111-104 victory. It was Portland's 3rd loss in as many outings and in many ways, the toughest.
The evening started out on a fairly good note. The Blazers played defense in the first quarter, a rarity of late. They didn't let the Magic get loose on screens and they offered few open jumpers. It felt like the Blazers knew the importance of this game, that they considered it a momentum-changer. It was as dedicated and concentrated of a first-period defensive effort as we've seen.
But even as the Blazers created trouble for dribblers and rotated to cover jump shooters, they left the rim wide open behind them for offensive rebounds. Orlando took full advantage. Too often Portland would force a bad shot only to give up a point-blank shot off the carom.
Meanwhile the Magic had Portland's offense in knots, forcing turnovers and scoring in transition.
Portland's big men shepherding guards away from the lane also left Nikola Vucevic with a relatively free hand, single-covered if not wide open for a jumper. He's quite good in those situations.
Philosophical Question: if your defense blunts the opponent's initial thrust but ends up ceding much easier looks off the pass or rebound, did you really play defense at all? If a tree falls in a forest and nobody's around to hear...
If the Blazers hadn't coughed up transition buckets and second-chance points, tonight's first period would have been masterful. Instead it was just adequate.
Whatever concentration went into defense to start this game didn't filter its way to the offensive end. When the Blazers weren't turning over the ball they treated us to ball-holding and stalling. We're used to seeing Arron Afflalo take his time trying to figure out what move to make, but the urge infected the entire team for the first 10 minutes or so. A couple of Chris Kaman offensive rebounds and a couple three-point possessions in the last 3 minutes saved Portland from disaster, but the scoreboard still read 25-18 Orlando after one.
The second period started off with the bench scoring well, mostly due to Kaman. His rebounding and offensive tenacity were on full display tonight. Then Damian Lillard checked back in and feasted on layups and foul shots. The officials gave a come-hither look to the Blazers tonight and Lillard sniffed it out like a wolfhound, driving again and again for easy buckets or free throws. His 14-point performance in the second propelled Portland to 37 overall...a huge tally.
Of course the Blazers can only do one thing right at a time, so their 37 was nearly matched by Orlando's 33. The second unit couldn't contain. The starters weren't much better. Orlando's pick-and-rolling might as well have been Rick Rolling for the number of times the Blazers fell for it. None of Portland's guards could handle their counterparts for more than 2 dribbles. Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, and Ben Gordon scored seemingly at will.
In the end good and bad balanced fairly equally for Portland. Orlando led 58-56 at the half. The Magic feasted on transition buckets, the Blazers on free throws. Heading into the second half it was anybody's game.
As the third quarter commenced, it became pretty clear that the "anybody" in "anybody's game" was going to be LaMarcus Aldridge. Blazer fans already know that the third period is Aldridge Time. Tonight it was time and a half. LMA took the team on his shoulders and carried them around the whole park.
Aldridge's spree started out with a couple of three-pointers and got more dominant from there. LaMarcus was all, "We are NOT losing this [bleeping] game so here's a [bleeping] three-pointer and you can [bleep] your [bleep] with this [bleeping] turn-around and [bleep] my [bleep] 'cuz there's my [bleeping] jumper plus you fouled me so give me my [bleeping] free throws and [bleep] your [bleeping] [bleep[ 'cuz I never [bleeping] miss free throws...[bleep] [bleep] [bleep]."
If you imagine the word, "scoring" underneath the bleeps, LaMarcus' quarter can pretty much be summed up like this:
When all the bleeping was done. Aldridge had scored 18. Yes, 18. In the quarter. Not even the count could keep up.
Meanwhile the Blazers took care of the ball, the Blazers policed the boards better...about the only thing they couldn't take care of was that pesky guard scoring for Orlando. Oladipo had a fine period, but he was no match for Aldridge. Portland won the third 25-17 and took an 81-75 lead into the fourth. All they needed to do was pour on the usual three-point barrage and they could walk about of the Amway Center with a win.
Silly Blazers. Nobody walks away from Amway. Nobody. Now sit down while I tell you how you can get rich selling household products to your friends and neighbors while recruiting them to work under you.
And the Blazers played the fourth quarter like they were listening to just such a presentation. It was less, "Let's win this game!" and more, "How soon can we get out of here without seeming rude?" Chris Kaman suffering a shoulder strain didn't help matters. He carried the bench unit in the first half but couldn't play in the second. Meyers Leonard was no substitute defensively, Joel Freeland no substitute offensively. Plus Orlando went crazy on the boards again.
Even when their defense held, which was seldom enough, offensive rebounds proved Portland's undoing...again. At one point Oladipo missed a 12-foot jumper, fell down, then watched the rebound sail to him, rising up at the last second to claim it from a sitting position. It was like 7th-grade basketball. "Me! Me! Oooh! Pick me, Mr. Rebound! I know the answer!" On another play Payton missed a shot, ended up under the rim with 4 Blazers around him, and still came up with the offensive rebound and putback. They were big Blazers too.
Watching the energy meter swing ineffably in Orlando's favor, it became apparent that the Blazers weren't taking this one. Portland's 23 points in the final period got eclipsed by a whopping 36 from the Magic. The disgusted looks on the faces of the starters as they got subbed out in the final minute told the whole story. They had come into this game vowing to win it. Despite amazing performances from their two stars, they left with a resounding loss.
I don't want to hammer on the rebounding too hard, but Orlando ranks 29th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage. They gathered up 18 offensive board tonight, Portland 11. That's, errrrr...unexpected? The Blazers got plagued by the usual bugaboos but rebounding was the straw that broke the camel's back.
Speaking of usual bugaboos...
--Orlando 16 fast break points, Portland 5
--Orlando 54 points in the paint, 9 above their season average
--Orlando's starting guards each scored 22. Oladipo's 7-23 shooting clip was bad but Payton shot 10-13 and notched a triple-double.
--Orlando's bench guards shot a combined 6-9 for 16 points
--The Blazers were lucky to end the game with only 13 turnovers after that first quarter, but Portland forced only 7 turnovers themselves.
The glassy-eyed stares at the end of the game may have been the most disturbing thing of all. We haven't seen looks that somber since the playoff series against San Antonio last year when it became clear Portland would not be advancing. It wasn't that bad tonight, but clearly the team is doing some soul-searching.
Unfortunately getting better against the Memphis Grizzlies is a tough ask. But that's exactly what the Blazers face tomorrow night. If they do win the game everything is right with the world again. That victory alone would redeem the trip. If you stopped at a gas station to ask directions they'd say you can't get there from here, though. Stay tuned.
Most of the failures tonight were team-wide...players not covering for each other on defense or players not covering for each other on the boards after they did cover for each other on defense. Add in that early-game stall-ball and you had a fairly un-Blazers-like evening. We'll only concentrate on the positive highlights individually, understanding that the letdown didn't come from any one person.
31 points on 12-24 shooting for LaMarcus Aldridge with 10 rebounds. He had his bad moments on defense and the boards too, but when you look at 31 and 10, plus Aldridge carrying the load in the best quarter the Blazers had overall, what more can you ask? LaMarcus' teammates are letting him down right now.
Damian Lillard scored 18 but shot 6-15, 0-5 from distance in the process. I know we said we wouldn't bring up negatives but he looked a little lost out there.
Nicolas Batum had 11 rebounds. No negativity! Don't mention the 5 turnovers. Don't...do it...
Chris Kaman dominated Orlando's bench tonight. 8 points and 4 rebounds in 9 minutes don't do the effort justice. During every bad game the Blazers seem to feature one player totally free of malaise. Tonight that was Kaman.
CJ McCollum scored 15 off the bench.
Portland sits in 4th place in the West, 1 game ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers, 2 in the loss column. They trail the Houston Rockets by 1.5 games, 1 in the loss column, the Memphis Grizzlies by 3 games, 2 in the loss column. Portland's number to clinch the Northwest Division over the Oklahoma City Thunder remains at 8, where it's stood for seemingly a week now.
Our Instant Recap features web reaction to this game plus news about LaMarcus Aldridge's new rebounding record.
Orlando Pinstriped Post will be loving on Elfrid Payton about now.
You know you have questions about this outing and this team right now. Why not call them into our podcast voice mail at 234-738-3394?
So level with us...the Blazers were clearly disappointed after this one. It wasn't Portland's worst performance by far, but was this still the worst loss of the year?
--Dave firstname.lastname@example.org / @DaveDeckard / @Blazersedge