Desperation, not BBQ, was in the air in Charlotte on Wednesday night, as the Charlotte Hornets (losers of five in a row) and the Portland Trail Blazers (2-3 in their last five games) came together— each hoping for a win to get back on track.
Portland came out strong, playing with pace and aggression not seen over their previous two defeats, and even managed to come out with a first quarter lead. However; a second-quarter run by the Hornets and a fourth quarter that saw Charlotte double Portland’s scoring output made this a laugher down the stretch. For the third game in a row, the Blazers emptied their bench as the game was out of reach.
Final score: Charlotte 107, Portland 85.
After a film session Tuesday, the Blazers sounded more confident than a team normally would be after successive defeats. Talk centered around changing predictable plays, giving effort on both ends of the floor, running instead of jogging in transition, and players owning up to individual miscues.
For roughly 10 minutes tonight, it looked like some of that had carried over into the game. Portland played faster than they had in quite some time. This led to a scrambling Hornets defense, vulnerable to the extra pass and decisive action. It also put the Blazers on tilt a bit, as they were unaccustomed to playing at that pace. Loose passes, forcing looks, playing a bit out of control.
Yet, it was okay because Portland was leading, in control of the game, and dictating their opponent’s response. Ceding a point or a turnover here or there was okay, since they were getting it back by forcing turnovers themselves.
It was all for naught, though.
After the aggressive start, Portland took their foot off the gas and appeared to settle on their early laurels. Charlotte almost immediately took control of the contest as Portland relaxed their approach. Hornet bigs— particularly Roy Hibbert— canned mid-range, uncontested jumper after mid-range, uncontested jumper.
Hibbert, Kemba Walker, and Nicolas Batum combined to shoot 11-for-13 in the period, racking up 25 points in about the most efficient manner possible. This alone was enough to outscore Portland by five in the period, but Charlotte had even more to give. Of course, contrast this with Al-Farouq Aminu, Allen Crabbe, and Meyers Leonard combining to shoot 0-for-9 and you can begin to feel the tone of the game swinging in Charlotte’s favor.
Across the board Charlotte outplayed Portland in the first half. It wasn’t this systematic scheme that just picked Portland apart; it was the same old things that reared up again. Not closing out on wide open shooters, failing to communicate on defense, being careless with the ball, etc. it’s the same broken record that we’ve been playing for weeks now.
Bad teams will take advantage of your mistakes and make a game where there shouldn’t be one. Good teams will take you to the woodshed and back with no remorse, and that’s how the game started to turn. The Blazers showed a little resistance early and late in the third period, closing the gap to 7-points heading into the fourth quarter.
Signs of life were immediately snuffed out by the Hornets in the fourth, and a do-not-resuscitate order was left on the Blazers. There was little interest from the road team in the final stanza, as the Hornets essentially did what they wanted while the Blazers chucked contested jumpers until the final buzzer.
Beating a dead horse doesn’t serve as an apt-enough description for what we’ve had to say about not only the last three games, but the majority of the season. The Blazers make the same mistakes, miss the same opportunities, and lack effort and commitment to consistent on defense.
Teams are taking Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum away and daring everyone else on Portland’s roster to carry the torch offensively, and it makes sense. No one has been able to step up with any kind of consistent contribution that the team can count on. Outside of “McLillard,” no Blazer scored in double-figures. Of the four players that took the most shots tonight, not one of them shot over 40 percent.
As the season progresses, it is becoming more and more apparent that this team— this roster— is fundamentally flawed. Asking players who aren’t capable of giving you starter-level performances to give you that isn’t just unfair, it’s crazy. This isn’t to bemoan the effort of guys like Mason Plumlee, Maurice Harkless, and/or Al-Farouq Aminu; they’re all fine players in their own right, but opponents outwardly exploiting Portland’s dysfunctional assemblage.
If the Blazers are going to have any chance of turning things around this season, they need to find a way to compensate for that shortcoming. Yeah, it’s a ridiculously difficult— maybe impossible— task for Portland. At this point though, what will changing or experimenting really cost the team? After starting 0-2 on this road trip they are dangerously close to an 0-4 Eastern Conference swing where they would be 10 games under .500.
Next up for Portland? The Philadelphia 76ers and the increasingly formidable force that is Joel Embiid.
AtTheHive (is probably buzzing with good feelings after this win)
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