The Blazers were game for a while last night, but they just had too many holes to stand up to the buzzsaw that is Golden State right now. Whenever Portland gets back the three key veterans who sat out, the team will likewise be very competitive, but will still be fielding a unit with a glaring hole.
Much has been made of the loss of Wesley Matthews and his intangibles. And with good reason; many fans considered him to be the ‘heart’ of the Blazers. Whether there was a tough defensive assignment, a tough question from reporters, a word that needed to be said to teammates, or a loose ball that demanded some floorburn—Wes was your guy. His personality and style of play became synonymous with what we considered to be the very best of the Blazers—the ‘soul’ of the team, if you will. We are now faced with a difficult question, one that we may have assumed we wouldn’t have to deal with anytime soon: Who are the Blazers without Wesley Matthews?
Certainly they are still a very good team. But as late-season pressure, adversity, and injuries mount, Portland’s superior team culture that has been developing character over time will now be put to the ultimate test—perhaps having already lost their essence.
The Blazers have a number of uniquely skilled, confident, battle-tested individuals. Who among them will put their stamp on the club, and see to it that even when the team loses, they don’t lose their way? Whoever it might be, they have to step into a position they likely had not envisioned themselves in for this particular team in this particular year.
But previous expectations mean nothing now, as it’s officially gut-check time for all involved. It’s clear that this club has struggled to adjust to life after Wes. There are more questions than answers. With three weeks packed with travel left in the regular season and home court advantage hanging in the balance, they need to find themselves—and quickly.
They need to shake off the chill and fatigue from that last road trip, because this stretch right here—this is why we all care so much. Everything you want is right there in front of you. It’s close…very close now. You need to start feeling like you’re walking around with arms made out of barbed wire. Don’t look to referees for calls, don’t respond to what other teams are doing—YOU need to dictate the terms of engagement. Intensity fails to describe the laser-like focus that is called for from this point on.
Certainly we the fans need to be ready to do our part. Now more than ever, we need not back away from the moment but must channel our ‘truest self’ as the city that stands behind this team.
The power of our voices can definitely impact the course of events—and has on the way to a dominant 28-7 home record. But in the end, it is up to the group that walks down that tunnel together to harden and become what they will ultimately be remembered as, besides likeable and fun.
There are countless examples throughout sports history of the many incarnations leadership can take in a team setting. Sometimes there is that individual player, who through strength of will keeps the team on track either through his play or words, or often both. This player is not necessarily always a starter—there have been several examples where veteran bench players, sometimes even a group of them, are the ones who hold the reins for a team. There are coaches whose depth of experience and personal relationships with players allow them to be the point man—but this is becoming increasingly uncommon given salary and status shifts in the modern game.
Rarely though has a team needed leadership to present itself so suddenly—and, perhaps, so urgently.
Who is ready to take this on their shoulders? The weight of the hopes and dreams of everyone involved sit and wait for someone self-possessed enough to declare, "This way." And then walk that walk.