FanPost

Game 14 vs. SAS: A throwaway game

Thirteen days after their previous appearance in the building, the Blazers hosted the San Antonio Spurs at the Moda Center and came away with a win that turned herky-jerky and seemed doubtful until the final two minutes of the game, tallying a final score of 110-117.

Recaps

Conditioning, competition, and closure

The roadbound reality of the NBA game was by no means the star of this contest—that honor goes to Jakob Poeltl—but was just as visible as any star player.

We watched two teams, one home for the first time in two weeks, the other playing the return leg of a back-to-back on the heels of humiliation in Oakland. Sticktoitiveness and hustle were abundant, but precision? Not so much.

In spite of everything the Blazers deserve a bit of recognition. Deep familiarity with travel gives the return home an otherworldly feel, especially after so long away, especially in the middle of a schedule that stays road-heavy until Christmas. That might be the Blazers' court, but to the Blazers it must have felt instead like just another court on just another night.

Let's hope that next month, when the Blazers conduct their second long trip this season, the bottom stays on.

Apart from Poeltl's performance on offense and Grant's shooting, everything about the action on the court last night was fuzzy around the edges. That's where the listicle feel of the rest of this story comes from.

Laser or lurch?

The season's been reliably punctuated by runs of bad passing, but last night's performance was particularly ugly. So many scoring opportunities after stops, so many lead-taking opportunities were literally thrown away by both teams, whether into the seats or the hands of opposing players. Essentially the game went to the team that made fewer mistakes.

Disorganized defense

The Blazers started the game in a 2-1-2 zone. That only works when the middle player has freedom to bounce between the top of the 3P arc and the low post, in near-constant motion as the ball itself moves around the halfcourt. The trouble comes when the offense sends the ball to the low post with a baseline cut, and when the offense deliberately moves the ball around the perimeter. Pop being Pop, you can count on the San Antonio Spurs to do both of those things even when opponents aren't making it easy.

Maybe the Blazers should avoid the 2-1-2 zone, or at least save it for an opponent that prefers to drive the lane. As it was they spent most of the game in the man-to-man or the 2-3 zone, which kept them from getting creamed.

Contributions absent

Last night Jusuf Nurkic never quite succeeded at fitting into the game, seemingly unable to summon the energy necessary to overcome the Spurs' assembly of mostly bigger—not huge, but bigger—guys. Nurk wasn't alone in his difficulties operating down low, but his was the absence most keenly felt.

Nassir Little was the other player out of place, though—perhaps for want of familiarity with what he brings overall as a player—it's more difficult to grasp why his effort is so difficult to tease out of the box score.

In neither of these cases can we appropriately criticize a lack of effort. Instead both players seemed half a step out of place throughout.

Contributions present

What the Blazers lacked from Nurkic and Little, Eubanks and Sharpe wasted no time replacing. What this writer watched last night appeared to be one of Eubanks' best performances in a Blazers uniform, while Sharpe's success on offense was in keeping with the rest of his contributions to the team. Notwithstanding the benefits the Blazers gain from Grant's presence on the roster, Sharpe's easy emergence as a strong contributor has been the most pleasant surprise of the past twelve months. That begs a question: in terms of win shares, how quickly will Shaedon Sharpe deliver the wins that the Blazers gave up last season in order to draft him?

Finally, there's the question of glue. Sure, Dame's expanded his repertoire, reliably generating assists more than the rebounds that we've been accustomed to seeing on his stat line. However, the Glue Guy title goes first to Justise Winslow—everything the Blazers do gets easier when he's on the court.

With Winslow out, Josh Hart has done his best to step up, and the value of his presence last night should not be discounted. As the discussion of the previous game already pointed out, Hart goes out of his way to make sure that the dirty jobs and tough assignments get covered—an effort that keeps the team from being the doormat we all feared a month ago.

Postscripts

  • Chauncey Billups has been a pleasant surprise this season, making his abilities as a teacher and low-key leader hard to miss. Pop, though… he's still the Sideline GOAT. What he's gotten out of his players this season has been just a shade short of miraculous. The game of basketball is better off for Gregg Popovich sticking with it.
  • Jakob Poeltl's style might be unspectacular, but man! is he a monster. This is an interesting time to be a Spurs fan.
  • There's no question that what the Blazers lack in size they make up with speed and hustle. Improvements in timing will be a boon to their cause, but these games against Dallas and San Antonio leave one wondering how they'll keep up this level of energy for an entire season and beyond.
  • Dame The Phenom is turning into Dame the Wily Veteran before our eyes. We should enjoy this.
  • It's been pointed out previously in this series that Cronin has finally delivered what Olshey merely promised: more lights-out shooting around Lillard, like Grant and his six made three-pointers last night. We should enjoy this, too.
  • Apropos of ESPN's most recent power rankings, it's fair to wonder how people would perceive pro ball if more writers were based on the West Coast and more dialled-into Western Conference ball.
  • In a previous story it was stated that the Blazers have one more six-game roadtrip; in fact they have two. In addition to the December trip, there's another in March.

Next up

The second game of the Blazers' current three-game homestand tips off tomorrow night at the Moda Center, against the Brooklyn Nets. The game broadcast is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. PST.

Brooklyn—beset as it is by Kyrie's suspension, Simmons' ongoing failure to engage, and KD's struggle to approach his team's difficulties in the most professional manner possible—is coming off of consecutive losses to the Lakers and Kings on the road, neither particularly close. Life will be easier for everybody if the Blazers can start the game hot.