The Portland Trail Blazers face an important juncture in their 2017-18 regular season this weekend, disguised as a pair of games with the Sacramento Kings. The opponent is of little import; talent-impoverished Sacramento is expected to contend for the lottery and Portland for the playoffs. But these games come at the tail end of an enormous homestand for the Blazers, with 11 out of 13 contests in friendly territory. This stretch was supposed to set up Portland for a strong season. Instead they entered tonight’s contest with an 8-6 record, needing back-to-back wins to preserve credibility and avoid the clinging malaise of .500 basketball. Instead they slummed their way to an 82-point, 37% shooting, 17-turnover drudge-fest, dropping the game 86-82 and falling to 8-7 on the season.
The short explanation for this game is that there wasn’t any flow. As has often happened this season, Jusuf Nurkic saw the Nurk Signal flash on the arena roof just before tip-off. Knowing the world was doomed to a reign of super-villainy if he didn’t intervene, he collected a pair of quick fouls, forcing Blazers Coach Terry Stotts to sit him. While everyone in the building was distracted by the Kiss Cam, Nurkic switched places with his secret doppelganger, Doofus Nurkic, and headed off to fight crime. His teammates did a reasonable job chasing Sacramento’s guards off of the three-point arc—one of the few ways they can actually score—and the Kings managed only 19 points in the period. But Portland’s offense was so bad that they needed three triples from Damian Lillard just to reach 20 points in the period themselves. The Blazers led by one after the first.
Buddy Hield—a.k.a. Mr. “I found someone way better than you, DeMarcus, and I hope you look at my Facebook page every day because I’m way happier than I ever was with you and I post lots of photos and update my status to that effect every ten minutes just to show I mean it and don’t think of you anymore at all, so there!”—hit a couple of threes early in the second to push his team into the lead. Their margin topped out at 8 points because nobody was really going to look good in this game, but it was enough to show the Blazers that the Kings weren’t going away. Other than those Hield bombs, most shots missed for both teams until late in the period when everybody started attacking the lane. Nurkic ducked back into the arena, tapped his doppelganger on the shoulder, then managed a layup, but his utility belt got tangled up in his sneaker laces and he couldn’t move fast enough to stop Willy Cauley-Stein from scoring in return. Fortunately Lillard and CJ McCollum returned the favor with a flurry on the other end and Portland trailed only 42-41 at the half.
The slow pace continued in the third period. McCollum took ALL the shots, hitting a couple, while Nurkic realized that superhero work was making him famished and headed up into the stands to find a caramel corn vendor. In his absence the Kings tattooed the heck out of the lane, which partially covered up the now-embarrassing “Boogie 4ever” design on their lower back. Neither team broke 20 in the period. The score was knotted at 60 entering the final quarter.
Finally noticing Nurkic’s absence, the Blazers spent the first part of the fourth period scanning the stands for him and turned the ball over frequently. Sacramento crowed, “Aha! An easy chance to score!” But then they didn’t. McCollum continued to shoot purely. Meanwhile Lillard played M.C. Hammer karaoke, throwing up a three-pointer every time he said, “Can’t Touch This”. He even hit one. Then disaster struck as Nurkic returned from his snack, went to relieve his twin, but slipped and ended up face-down under the bench, spilling sticky caramel corn onto the sideline. When Coach Stotts and the refs turned to see what the commotion was, he knew he was stuck. Emerging would blow his secret identity, get him suspended from the league, and allow the Forces of Evil to prevail. So he did the only thing he could. He whispered to his doppelganger, “It’s your time now. You must play!” Up rose the towering impostor, ambling his way onto the court, right through the gooey mass of caramel corn which stuck to the bottom of his sneakers. That’s how the Blazers finished the game with a slow, ground-bound Doofus Nurkic patrolling one quarter of one edge of the lane, making his way up and down the court with all the speed of a rectangular turnip, as Cauley-Stein and the Kings scored again and again and again at the rim while Real Nurkic lay helpless underneath the visiting bench.
As Lillard’s final three-point heave wobbled its way towards the basket will all the momentum of a Katy Perry hit, the final horn sounded and the Blazers ended up on the wrong end of a four-point loss.
Why did Portland lose? Well...
The Kings are terrible at everything except three-point shooting, which they’re mediocre at. Sure enough, they fired 29% from the arc tonight. Portland shot 28%.
Sacramento has no inside scoring game, ranking 26th in the league. They outscored Portland 44-28 in the lane.
The Kings might be the worst rebounding team in the NBA. Portland is among the best. The two teams tied at 44, with Sacramento edging out the Blazers in offensive rebounds 12-11.
Portland had 13 assists and turned the ball over 18 times.
Willy Cauley-Stein averages 8.2 points per game. He scored 22 tonight, 14 inside the restricted area. Kosta Koufos added 10 more inside of 10 feet.
Vince Carter didn’t play, Zach Randolph didn’t score a point, Buddy Hield left before crunch time with an ankle injury and the Kings still won.
Now...how hard do you think the Blazers tried?
CJ McCollum did ok.
This came out from Jason Quick post-game:
Jusuf Nurkic says he has been battling flu-like sickness for past three games.— Jason Quick (@jwquick) November 18, 2017
Make of it what you will.
SactownRoyalty will be celebrating their team’s fourth win of the season.
The Blazers face these same Kings Saturday night at the Moda Center, 5:00 pm, Pacific. They’ll bounce back and win big, but...