Kicking off a stretch in which 10 of their next 11 games come in front of the Moda Center crowd, the stage was set for the Portland Trail Blazers to officially re-introduce themselves to the NBA world, starting with a convincing performance against a cellar-dwelling Orlando Magic group.
The Blazers went 0-of-1 in that regard, and 6-of-35 from the 3-point line, paving the way to a difficult 109-106 loss on Tuesday night. Despite another 30-point performance from Damian Lillard and a 22-point, 10-rebound showing from Jusuf Nurkic, the Magic’s stars simply struck a bit harder, using red-hot starts in the first and third quarters to hang on for a nail biting win.
The loss drops the Blazers to an unenviable 19-21, and into No. 11 in the Western Conference standings. Below are a few observations from tonight’s defeat.
An Early Disappearing Act:
Whoever came up with the phrase, “There’s no place like home” certainly never got a chance to see the Trail Blazers during tonight’s first quarter. Kicking off a celebration-worthy stretch of home games, the Blazers opened the game with relative stage fright. Portland was 0-for-pick-a-number from 3-point range to kickstart the game, missing their first nine, and they weren’t much better elsewhere, either. To boot, the turnover problem — only the Bucks and Lakers have averaged more first quarter giveaways over their last 15 games — plagued them, opening up an early 33-20 deficit.
You could’ve heard a nickel drop from the nosebleeds with how quiet Moda Center was at times throughout that first half. A few runs, anchored largely by Jerami Grant’s exceptional hustle and Nurkic’s brute force, security bouncer-style basketball, allowed the Blazers to save face, even taking a surprising 50-50 deadlock into halftime. Nurkic, for his credits, had a 18-point, eight-rebound, three-block first half by his lonesome. Given the Blazers’ propensity for eventually igniting against lower-tier teams, think the Pistons and Hornets games, the window of opportunity always felt open, even during their scoring droughts. And speaking of …
So, How About That Weather?
They say the Pacific Northwest is the place to be for those who love the rain and precipitation; you wouldn’t quite know it given some of the offensive droughts the Blazers’ offense has, though.
There are special bragging rights reserved for a team featuring the NBA’s only 20-point trio. But for all of the offensive bravado on this roster, it’s difficult to not take note of how long this talented group can go without registering a single field goal, even against defenses such as Orlando’s which ranks No. 25 in the NBA this season.
There were specific droughts in each quarter, but perhaps the most consequential of them — a third quarter dry spell in which the Blazers went nearly two commercial breaks without a score, right out of halftime — allowed the Magic to run off 15 unanswered, forcing the Blazers to play catch-up for the majority of the second half.
Portland eventually looked serviceable, but by the time the fourth quarter had rolled around, fatigue was a factor and the margin of error had thinned. This situation has played out before; just a few nights ago, they had two five-plus minute droughts without a field goal in Toronto. Once more, it led to some brutal offensive end results. Though, if there were one positive to remember this game for, this might be it:
The Unfriendly Bounce:
You won’t get too far down the box score without noticing that the Blazers, fifth-best in the NBA heading into tonight, shot 6-of-35(!) from the 3-point line in tonight’s loss.
Perhaps even more excruciatingly-painful than the 29 3-point misses were how those misses came. With a chance to finally tie the game with 24 seconds left, the Blazers, poetically, came up empty on all three 3-point attempts; they missed almost all of their blow-the-roof-off shots, the ones that put an exclamation point on a run and truly get the crowd involved. The extra pass from Nurkic to Grant late in the fourth — you likely remember this one — stands out, but based on the type of night the Blazers had been having, perhaps it would’ve just made for a 30th miss.
To their credit, a lot of the misses were actually somewhat-open shots that just came up short. The Blazers found some decent looks in creating those 4-on-3s when Orlando trapped their guards. But there were plenty of clanks that hit the front of the rim; tired legs will do that to you. One look at the individual box score and that thought becomes telling, which hits on a few notes in the additional thoughts:
- Anfernee Simons played in 43 minutes tonight. Jerami Grant — whose 3-point shot has escaped him as of late — logged 41 grueling ones. Damian Lillard played 39 of them. As a reminder: this is mid-January against a 15-win Orlando Magic team.
- Josh Hart primarily took on the role of guarding Paulo Banchero, the prospective pick for Rookie of the Year at this point. It was a spirited effort, as is everything Hart does; the bigger problem came with Franz Wagner, who provided his best ‘03 Tracy McGrady impression with 29 points. The Blazers were too late to start blitzing his pick-and-rolls and defending him more aggressively.
- The Nurkic super-sag-off strategy continues to yield mixed results. We’ve seen this over the last few weeks with Scottie Barnes, Myles Turner, and now Wendell Carter Jr., among others. There aren’t many options, but it continues to be an interesting one, having him play the opposition that far off. His foul trouble was also of note, too.
If you haven’t already, take a glance at Matthew Legros’ quarter-for-quarter recap on tonight’s loss.
The Blazers, home for almost all of January, have a chance to get back in good fortunes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, Jan. 12 at 7:00 pm PT.