If you took a poll of Portland Trail Blazers fans, offering them the option to end the 2014-15 campaign on March 4th with their team holding on to good health and a 40-19 record, they'd probably take it over the near-parody the season has become. Yup, it's gotten so silly that the dog days look like paradise.
An already tough road--featuring injuries to Wesley Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge, Arron Afflalo, and Dorell Wright--took a near-freakish turn tonight as the Trail Blazers faced the Oklahoma City Thunder. Nicolas Batum went down with a knee injury in the first period. (Video and Status Updates Here) Then CJ McCollum, the diamond unearthed by the late-season injury bulldozer, fell to an ankle sprain with seconds to go in the first half. (Video Here) Neither player returned to the game and neither is expected to play as the Blazers face the Dallas Mavericks in their final regular-season game on Wednesday night.
The injury situation got so bad that Trail Blazers Coach Terry Stotts played a lineup of Meyers Leonard, Joel Freeland, Alonzo Gee, Allen Crabbe, and Tim Frazier in the fourth period tonight with the game still in reach. Zero players lie below that quintet on the depth chart. Portland fielded the bottom five players in its rotation...the 11th-15th men...in crunch time. By comparison, the Moda Center crowd stands 5 places higher on the depth chart.
To their credit, the Blazers stayed close(-ish) to an OKC team competing for their playoff lives, running an 8-man rotation. Portland lost 101-90, but the margin stayed in single-digits down to the last minute. The Blazers managed to shoot 46% from the field. (Terry Stotts' offense lives even when the roster is dying around it.) What's more, the Blazers held Oklahoma City to 41% shooting. (The defense lives too!) But Portland couldn't manage enough infrastructure to support their otherwise-decent effort.
--OKC grabbed 18 offensive rebounds to 3 for the Blazers.
--The Thunder took 27 free-throw attempts, Portland 9.
--Oklahoma City outstripped Portland 16-6 in transition, 52-36 in the paint.
--The Blazers shot a semi-respectable 8-23 (35%) from the arc but Leonard's 5-9 clip accounted for most of that. The rest of the team shot 3-14.
In short, it was Blazers basketball, but there wasn't enough "Blazers" in it to matter.
A few good things came out of the evening:
1. Leonard scored a career-high 24 points on 9-17 shooting with 5 of 9 three-pointers made. He played the best Meyers Ball offense we've seen.
2. Joel Freeland also notched a career high with 16 points on 8-13 shooting in 23 minutes.
(Am I really recapping a game where Leonard and Freeland combined for 30 shot attempts? Yikes!)
3. Tim Frazier showed some nifty ball-wizardry, dishing 7 assists in 27 minutes. He knows how to put the ball on the floor and pass. But every shot attempt threatens to break the old Shaq "No Shattering the Backboard" rule. The penalty is a technical foul plus possible fine, and we might see it if Frazier takes any more three-point attempts.
(For the record, Frazier shot 1-8 from the field.)
So yeah, if you ever wondered why the deepest of Portland bench players made the NBA, they showed you tonight. They can score, pass, defend a little even. But this isn't even a shadow of the actual Blazers. It's a rumor of a reflection in the penumbra of a shadow. And it might start limping at any time.
The main thing for Portland is to make it through Wednesday without any more trouble. That'll probably mean light minutes for any regulars and more playing time for guys you never thought you'd see. (Perspective: Frazier almost quadrupled his season total for minutes tonight. Alonzo Gee played a quarter of his minutes for the season. Joel Freeland padded his total by 5%.) As long as nobody else gets hurt, not a soul will care.
We'll update you on the Western Conference playoff bracket when the slate of games concludes.
Welcome to Loud City should be happy tonight...happier than the New Orleans Pelicans, anyway. They needed OKC to lose in order to secure a playoff spot.