Game 18 at CLE: We've seen this movie, a little

Last night the Blazers took the court in Cleveland, but any hopes this writer or others may have had of a victory were blown up spectacularly by a performance that looked farcical, but was genuine. After three quarters of futility, the Blazers surrendered the 96-114 result.

This is where things for the Blazers have gone bad. The schedule has a lot to do with that, but after four consecutive losses the question becomes: can the Trail Blazers weather this stretch and absorb the lessons from it that will make them a better team?

There's enough drive and professionalism on the roster and staff to make that outcome almost certain, but to put Tom Paine's words into a context with a bit more levity, "these are the times that try men's souls." Paychecks and talent notwithstanding, none of us should envy what the Blazers are going through right now.

Enough of us have been through comparable crap stretches in our own lives, so hopefully few people do.


One issue front-center

We talk about guys getting the yips.

These are not the yips, but something even more inevitable.

The problem is not one of overconfidence so much as presumed familiarity that opposing teams are gleefully ripping to shreds.

The root problem last night was not the turnovers.

It wasn't rebounding or shooting, either, even though the Blazers flunked both areas of production according to the eye test.

The problem was momentum. It wasn't for lack of trying, but the consecutive stops and consecutive makes that a team needs to keep ahead were just… not… coming… together for the Blazers.

The Cavaliers deserve credit for seizing the opportunity that the Blazers gave them, and reveling in it with panache. One team at least managed to entertain last night.

In this tale of futility the narrative was certainly helped along by unsympathetic officials, but not decisively so—especially once officials' general treatment of tentative and frustrated players is taken into account.

…But the frustration is down to the Blazers' descent into a sort of pit.

Those of us whose résumés contain at least trivial quantities of sales experience have encountered, sooner or later, a phenomenon: nothing works. Nothing closes. Pitches fall on deaf ears. Customers are rarely hostile, but often tuned-out.

This happens not because of the conditions; those can be completely rosy. Instead the trouble's all in the head of the salesperson. Timing is off, details get missed, and these little mistakes pile up until all chance of a successful close has withered away.

…And this happens, over and over—dozens of times or more.

Last night's game is what happens when one team experiences professional basketball's analogue to that problem… and the other does not.

These implosions often happen because the operator’s fondest wish is to be somewhere else, but that's a stretch for an entire basketball team—even one in the middle of a brutal roadtrip during the approach of the Thanksgiving weekend.

These guys signed up for this, and they're getting paid well for it. It's hard to imagine them wanting to be anywhere else.

This writer's discussion of the problem with the mistress of his house put another name to the trouble: the presumed familiarity raised earlier. Coach Billups' dismay about on-court decisionmaking—shared during his postgame media avilability—points in that direction.

The trouble is not so much one of overconfidence-quickly-corrected as it is owed to a sloppiness that sneaks into the work. "We're good at this", the thinking goes, "so we should just take the shortest path to a successful possession that we can, and no need to bother with the fundamentals."

From that judgment follows improvisation—often poorly thought out—and too often the whole effort gets swallowed up in a colossal failure-to-sync. The improvised play might look for most of the possession like it's inspiredhow many times did we see that from the Blazers last night?—but the underwhelming outcome remains. Whatever good comes of the improvisation proves itself induplicable.

No part of that error is born out of laziness or any other form of deliberately unprofessional behavior. Instead it creeps up on the beholder until everything is so disastrously out of sync that anything tried will fail.

…And that is what we watched last night. The trouble's probably been after the team like a hound all season, and now roster holes and schedule challenges are ripping the cover off for all to see.

Something else to consider is that it only takes two or three guys off that cliff for the rest of the team to follow. It doesn't need to be same two or three guys every night, either.

That's where things are at.

Postscripts will be left off this time, because until the entire roster recommits to affirmative mental presence and adherence to good habits, all the hero ball we might see is just some guy providing a couple hours of good entertainment. Signs of improvement in one game need to be duplicated successfully in the next one before we can give much thought to counting on them.

This withering analysis does not intend to suggest that the guys are beyond saving; nothing could be farther from the truth. However, none of us yammering here are privy to inside information, so it's impossible to say who's worse off, or how long it will take them to get it back together.

It might be a long road back, but we'd all do well to hope for a short one.

The Blazers will be at the Madison Square Garden on Friday night, taking on a Knicks team more burdened by troubles but better aware of the ones that can and should be fixed without delay. As is the case with the other games, the sims are unkind to the Blazers—but as has been the case, the Blazers have the tools to overcome the odds.