Despite a late push in the fourth quarter, the Portland Trail Blazers fell to the Charlotte Hornets 109-101 on the road today. Carmelo Anthony led all Blazers in scoring with 24 points off the bench. CJ McCollum also scored 22, but did so on 8-for-22 shooting. Terry Rozier and PJ Washington led the way for Charlotte with 34 and 23 points respectively. Washington, who came off the bench, also added four blocks.
Dave Deckard had the somewhat-comical instant recap of the blowout loss. If you want a quarter-by-quarter description, you can find it here.
Here are six observations from Sunday’s loss.
That First Quarter
We have to talk about that first quarter against Charlotte. The Hornets shot 77% (!) from the field and 70% (!!!) from three. It was a truly incredible shot-making display and an incredibly bad way for the Blazers to start this game off. While some of it can be chalked up to Charlotte just absolutely feeling it to start the game, a lot of those makes came on easy, open looks generated by dribble-drives from Rozier, pick-and-roll action, and drive-and-kicks to wide open shooters. It’s difficult to imagine how this start could have been any worse.
The problem with first quarters like that is it puts Portland in such a hole. They have to play almost perfect for stretches in order to get back. If the Blazers’ aren’t perfect after that, then they’re toast. Sometimes a team is just hot and makes a lot of shots, but to give up 44 points while allowing your opponent to make over 75% of their shots is not something that happens without incompetence defensively.
No Dame, Some Problems?
The Blazers were without Damian Lillard for the second straight game, and it certainly wasn’t great. His absence was most notable on the offensive end. CJ McCollum struggled from the field and Norman Powell ended up fine, but couldn’t make a shot from outside (1-for-8 from three). Besides those two and Carmelo Anthony (depending on the day), the Blazers don’t have a lot of shot creators.
It’s a good idea to rest Dame and let him be 100% once the playoffs come around, so the Blazers shouldn’t regret keeping him out. Lillard shouldn’t have to expend himself so much over the regular season only to be weakened come the playoffs. But that doesn’t make these losses easier to swallow.
Speaking of Melo...
Anthony had 24 points tonight. 16 of those came in the fourth quarter! Why does he always decide to wait until the fourth quarter to be vintage Melo? I’m not sure! But it’s always fun when it happens. It was a pretty close to perfect offensive quarter from the future hall-of-famer, at least until the end when he had some less-than-choice shot selections.
In a weird way, this ties back into what I just wrote about how giant deficits mean that Portland needs to have big quarters in order to have a chance. If the Blazers locked down a little bit earlier or Terry Stotts adjusted something to give Portland a chance to get back in it sooner, then we might be talking about how Melo saved us against the Hornets. Instead, Portland is one game closer to becoming a play-in team.
This was the first game where we got an extended look at Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but there were some positives. Seven points and five boards in 22 minutes of action is pretty decent for someone in Hollis-Jefferson’s role. He didn’t do much of anything to change the way this game ended, but hustle on the boards and willingness to do the dirty work was appreciated.
Hollis-Jefferson doesn’t change the Blazers’ ceiling. He’s theoretically a good defender as a role player, someone who might be viable as a small-ball five in a pinch. But his clear deficiencies on offense (1-for-5 from the field tonight) means that he’s not much more than a guy who gives you a few minutes here and there. If anything, this game showed that he will most likely be an underwhelming player in Portland.
No Derrick Jones Jr.?
Where the heck was Derrick Jones Jr.? The Blazer wing played zero minutes in this game against Charlotte, certainly a choice on Stotts’ part. It could mean nothing. A game on the road against the Hornets is a perfect opportunity to both a) rest a key rotation player and b) let a new guy like Hollis-Jefferson show what he can do with extended minutes. Still, it’s interesting that DJ was a DNP-CD tonight.
Once this game got out of hand, it felt like a good time for Stotts to try something different with the lineup. Down by double digits in the first quarter, he could’ve veered away from his natural instinct to stick with the plan and instead tried to do something different with the lineups. Instead, he subbed in Enes Kanter and Carmelo Anthony...into a game where the Blazers were getting annihilated on defense.
The logic behind that move in particular is just not sound. If your team is struggling on defense, you don’t put in two of your worst defenders. That’s just doubling down on a bad strategy. It especially doesn’t make sense when PJ Washington is destroying you as a small ball center. I like Stotts. I think he’s a pretty good coach. But just once in a while, I’d like to see him do something more sound with the lineup.
Next up, the Blazers will head back to the Moda Center to take on the Los Angeles Clippers. The two teams will face off on Tuesday at 7 p.m.