The Citizens break down the Blazer’s 3-1 week, from the glory of the Thunder to the heartbreak of the Mavs to playing Jazz like its our day job. We also look ahead to an upcoming home rematch against the Rockets and road games against Philly and Detroit.
Then on the back nine we ruminate on Stephen A. Smith’s comment that the Blazers are ‘a piece or two away’ from contending for a ring, equate Blazers to tools in a tool shed, and — in honor of the Blazers collective use of #worstbehavior on Twitter — find the best rap lyrics to summarize the season so far.
All that, plus a Stephen A. Smith impression from Edwin, MVP chants for LA, lots of Drake, and COMMUNIST PROPAGANDA!!!
I hate writing recaps of games featuring the Utah Jazz. I hate watching games featuring the Utah Jazz. I hate the undeniable fact the Utah Jazz exist on this Earth. My hate for the Jazz isn’t even darkly enjoyable, like my hate for the Lakers, where the hate is a noble stance against evil. I hate the Jazz because their mere presence in the NBA, and anywhere, drains a tangible amount of joy out of my life. Back when they were good, I hated them because their excellence opposed every reason that the NBA in the 90s was so cool. Their stars had no charisma, or cool sneakers. Their uniforms sucked. Their fans were lame. Their playing style could be characterized as unrelenting efficiency (not the cool sense of efficiency but the analyzing data for the best deal on printer paper kind of efficiency). They didn’t even get into any cool fights. That they managed to play in back to back Finals and keep some other cooler and more exciting teams out of those Finals is the blemish on an otherwise perfect era of basketball. I thought that their steep descent into irrelevance would make them more palatable, but no, I still hate them. I might even hate them more now because they’re just so horrible to watch. I wish I could forego writing a recap and just put up that steamroller video again, but this game was too “competitive” for that. Nonetheless, let’s make this quick.
The Blazers were asleep for the first quarter. I don’t know how much I’m exaggerating because they actually might have been asleep. Nicolas Batum was out there in pajamas with the little droopy hat like Ebenezer Scrooge or something. Terry Stotts probably drugged everybody up on sedatives before the game because he knew that would be the only way to get his team to play against the Jazz. Rob Ford’s wife does the same thing to get into bed with her slob of a husband. I’m falling back on lazy Rob Ford jokes. This is what you’ve done to me, Utah Jazz. Enes Kanter preys on sleepwalkers and the first quarter ended 22-22.
The Blazers gained something of a foothold in the second quarter, which is to say that they woke up and realized that they have feet and that said feet can touch down somewhere. Against the Jazz, that’s all it takes, the knowledge of one’s own feet. Write that one down. Anyway, so Thomas Robinson swatted some shots, the Blazers offense hit some shots, and Portland took a 49-45 lead into half. Don’t be fooled by the 4-point lead and relative success in comparison to the first quarter. This was an ugly game, like watching a Wisconsin intrasquad scrimmage as interpreted by zombies — zombies that set screens but don’t know how to shoot or make back cuts. Any neutral viewers who stayed through halftime deserve a hug or a free t-shirt or the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The third quarter began and so did LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored 6 of the Blazers’ first 8 points in the second half. Aldridge would finish with a team-high 24 points and allegedly heard “M-V-P” chants in a road arena for the first time in his career. How he heard one person’s chants among the 18 people scattered about the arena is anyone’s guess. The rest of the Blazers also pitched in, to the scoring not the chanting, and Portland led 77-64 going to the fourth.
Truthfully, I started watching half-court bounce pass videos on YouTube (inspired after a long bounce pass from Mo Williams) and didn’t pay much attention for the first half of the fourth quarter. I don’t feel bad about it. When I did look back up though, Enes Kanter and Gordon Hayward and some magically younger version of Richard Jefferson were whittling away at the Portland lead. After a Trey Burke jumper and a Wes Matthews turnover, Gordon Hayward scored to cut the lead to deficit to 7 with about three and a half minutes left. Two minutes later, two Hayward free throws cut it to 5 with a minute and a half left. Then on the Blazers’ following possession, with the shot clock ticking down, Batum canned a three from about 8 parsecs, quickly followed by a Kanter miss and another three, this time from Damian Lillard, to put the Blazers up 11 with 38 seconds remaining. So ended the Utah Jazz’s ugly, joy-draining moment in my life, and let’s not speak of them again for a quite a while.
Before we take this any further, I feel the need to be up front with you: Monta Ellis won this game on a buzzer beater and it was really horrible and if you saw it you probably would have cried or at least poured yourself a tall glass of merlot or who-the-hell-cares-just-as-long-as-there’s-alcohol-in-it and stared blankly at HGTV for the next three hours because imagining yourself as the middle aged woman complaining that the countertop in some Provençal manor might not be the optimal layout for all the entertaining that she loves to do because how else can you cheer yourself up after Monta takes a meaty bite out of your left ventricle? If like me, you were watching the game, then you already know. I’m not saying to lace up the Nike Cortezes and drink the rest of this jug of Kool Aid that may or may not be part cherry and part poison, but this loss, and the way it happened, hurts.
For at least the first three quarters, the game felt like it was being played in black-and-white. The Blazers weren’t playing in color. They weren’t #Turnt, or whatever. The open 3-pointers weren’t falling, LaMarcus Aldridge struggled to get his offense going, and the normally exquisite passing and movement of the offense just didn’t reach its usual pinnacle. By halftime, the only sources of excitement for Portland were Damian Lillard’s 19 points and Robin Lopez’s double-double. Lillard comes ready equipped for such grimier affairs with his individualist ability and cutthroat attitude, but I do wonder if Robin Lopez playing well isn’t a harbinger for more general failure elsewhere. After all, if Lopez, by far the least skilled offensive player on the floor in black and red, is getting his, then that means Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge probably are not getting theirs. Either they’re not being involved in the offense or, as was the case on Saturday, they’re missing shots and giving Lopez offensive rebounds. However, the fact that the Blazers trailed only by one or two possessions for most of that time felt like a positive. At some point, by the laws of mathematics, the misses would have to turn to makes and the Blazers would rally. Just like always.
Enter the third quarter, a place and time that has seen its share of rallies. The Blazers know where their bread receives its unholy galactic butter, and fed Aldridge early and often. It kinda sorta worked in the sense that Aldridge made some shots and got to the free throw line and passed well out of the double teams that Rick Carlisle sent his way, but Aldridge didn’t go that special thundercloud of jump shots that double as Apollo missions piloted by Aquaman because what is a LaMarcus Aldridge jump shooting zone if not a special thundercloud of Apollo missions piloted by Aquaman? Anyway, LaMarcus didn’t get quite there but the Blazers still hung around, and then Nicolas Batum made his Napoleon-returning-from-Elba move on the game, scoring 8 straight points capped by a strangely acrobatic 3-pointer that probably could have been an opportunity for a 4-point play, to give the Blazers a 74-73 lead. But once again, as they did all game, the Blazers failed to seize the true “turning point” moment and gave up 6 quick points and went to the fourth quarter back down 3.
It wasn’t until about 7 minutes to go in the fourth quarter when Damian Lillard got all Live-in-Technicolor on the game. A nice finish inside cut it to five and forced a Mavericks timeout. Then a midrange jumper to answer a bucket from Vince Carter, who is not really good anymore, but it’s still impressive that he’s out there at all so shoutout to you, Vince Carter. Then a few minutes later, Lillard canned back-to-back threes to tie the game, Carlisle called for another timeout, and Lillard unleashed his Thizz Face that instead of throwing away as Mac Dre might suggest, Dame Funk let shine for the people of the Moda Center and the viewers at home, thanks to the ever-watchful cameras of Comcast SportsNet NW.
Unfortunately, Dirk Nowitzki did some Dirk stuff after that which I could describe in more detail but I’m pretty sure “Dirk stuff” describes it perfectly so let’s just move on. THERE WERE LEG KICKS NEED I SAY MORE?
Down 6 inside of a minute to play after two Monta Ellis buckets that felt pretty daggerish back in that simpler time when we weren’t quite sure what the cold blade of a dagger sharply piercing through the weak points of our armor and into our backs felt like, Nico drilled a tough three from the corner to cut it to three. Then Ellis got himself caught in a trap on the sideline at mid-court and fumbled the ball out of bounds, turning it back to the Blazers. Lillard took a screen at the top, the Mavericks switched it leaving Dirk on Lillard as the seconds on the game clock ticked away, Lillard pump faked to get the big man in the air, double pumped and let fly a 3-pointer that cut through the net to tie the game with 1.9 seconds on the clock as I let out quite an excited yelp from my couch. After a replay review to see if Lillard’s right toe was on the line was determined inconclusive, Carlisle took one last timeout to draw up a final shot. The Mavericks quickly inbounded the ball to Ellis and sorry but this woman on House Hunters is about to decide if a seaview is worth investing a little more money for renovation and whatever is in this glass isn’t going to drink itself.
The official hashtag tonight will be: Dallas and Portland, two teams borne of the same DNA and forever connected by the ongoing migration of talent and a single shared memory of glory. It’s long, I know. Nor does it fit with the general formatting conventions of a hashtag. But trust me. That’s the ticket to the vast Internet riches that come with selection to the Trail Blazers’ official “Tweets of the Night” list. It may not be funny, or clever, but it is true.
In Mavericks (12-8) head coach Rick Carlisle, Terry Stotts will face his old mentor, the man who taught Stotts the elements of the “Flow” offense, how to assert command of a team, what to order at The Cheesecake Factory for optimum efficiency, how to make holiday scented candles at home, what to do in a knife fight, and yeah I don’t really know what mentors do. But Rick and Terry know all too well, and so in this fifth matchup between the two since Stotts left Dallas (Carlisle is 3-1 in the series), their knowledge of one another’s systems should get it all Spy vs. Spy up in the Moda Center on Saturday night.
Now occupying Stotts’s former seat next to Carlisle and listening with a keen ear for those home candling instructions is Kaleb Canales, the Laredo (Texas) native who you may remember coached the Trail Blazers all the way back in 2012, after the firing of Nate McMillan. Canales had his own special journey through the Trail Blazers organization from video intern to video coordinator to weed carrier to dude that hits LaMarcus Aldridge with pads during 1AM workouts to senior weed carrier all the way to interim head coach. But after staying on last season as an assistant under Stotts, Carlisle lured Canales back to Texas to be an assistant for the Mavericks. Saturday will be Canales’s first return to Portland since leaving the team, which makes for another official hashtag: Kaleb Canales Revenge Game.
Of course, the season before McMillan was fired and Canales became the interim head coach, the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA Championship after a playoff run that began with a first round series against the Blazers that you may remember because if you don’t remember it, then we will never be friends and may Brandon Roy show no mercy on your soul. But anyway, Dallas won a surprise title that year riding a dynamic offense built around Dirk Nowitzki, who played at an insanely high level for those few months. HEY WAIT A SECOND…Terry Stotts was an assistant on that Dallas bench and has used those same principles to build a similarly dynamic offense around a similarly versatile big man who O BTW IS FROM DALLAS and is similarly playing at an insanely high level featuring a similarly unguardable jump shot and the team’s excellence has similarly surprised the basketball gatekeepers. So there’s that too.
Welcome to Portland, blue notes of Utah. Be sure to check out Kenny and Zuke’s if you like pastrami, or head up to Washington Park and take a nice Christmas card photo, because at 7PM in the Moda Center, the Terry Stotts Death Machine will liquefy your roster into Wes Matthews’s favorite protein shake. And Wes needs his nutrients.
At 4-16, you appear well on your way to bringing Latter-Day Saint Jabari Parker to your land of milk, honey, and the northern-most In-N-Out Burger (shoutout to Centerville, Utah!). But to do so, you’re going to have to endure pain and hardship that Gordon Hayward, sweet child that he is, cannot even imagine. You might believe that you’re Andy Dufresne crawling his way to salvation, but recognize that we’re the 500-yard tunnel of shit-smelling foulness. And we love shit-smelling foulness. It’s a smell that Marvin Williams (LOL) will emit plenty tonight, when LaMarcus Aldridge is cutting him into death-by-a-thousand-turnarounds.
Speaking of Williams, it was nice of you to relegate Enes Kanter the bench, Ty Corbin, you wack genius you. Now he can play against Thomas Robinson, and when T-Rob jackhammers tip dunks down on the Yung Turk’s head, it will rattle Asia Minor enough that we might even fully uncover the location of ancient Troy. That will probably earn you some kind of recognition in the archaeology community, which will be a nice thing to have on your Linkedin profile when the team cans you at the end of season to exhume Jerry Sloan.
I know, I know, it’s not your fault. The front office is setting you up to fail, with good reason (JABARIIIIIIIIII!!!!). Your best player is Hayward, and Meyers Leonard has met spray-tans tougher than him. Then they have you starting Richard Jefferson, who I’m pretty sure Gregg “I like my pick-and-rolls like I like my terroir: layered” Popovich gave up on for Stephen Jackson and a couple bottles of Mad Dog, and not even the good flavors. Plus, that French kid that the suits drafted with the 8 foot arms, Gobert or whatever, isn’t good for much of anything other than reaching the high shelves where you had to stash said Mad Dog because, you know, Utah. But maybe they’re keeping you around for the same reason, Ty. I’m not talking about the reaching part. I’m talking about the failing for good reason part. Perish the thought, I know.
But there are some uplifting billboards lining the road of this death march. Trey Burke and Alec Burks (does that get confusing? I imagine that would get confusing. Sorry, I’m sure that’s the least of your problems) have shown flashes of excitement in the backcourt. In fact, they both scored 21 points in the win over Houston on Monday. Hey! Houston! That’s like a real NBA team and everything! Unfortunately for you, Ty Corbin and fine people of Utah, Damian Lillard spent an entire preseason game enslaving the soul of Trey Burke so mercilessly that Burke will be bringing him donuts in the afterlife for eternity (mmm…afterlife donuts…). If Lillard did that in a preseason game, just imagine the horror to be witnessed when the wins “count,” if you care to count yours that is. Actually, on second thought, don’t imagine that horror. Just go back to Kenny and Zuke’s, order the Ken’s Special–hell throw some pastrami cheese fries in there too, and savor these final moments. It will all be over soon enough.
This is the first post in what will be a recurring weekly wrap-up series titled Look Back Upon The Ashes because a trail has been “blazed” and the Blazers’ offense is like a dragon scorching everything in its path and whatever, you get the idea.
MIKE RICE FAN FICTION
Lance Stephenson walks towards the sideline and slams his fists in frustration on the table in front of Mike Rice and Mike Barrett, causing Rice to say, “I’m used to violence. I’m from Detroit.”
“I can remember a cold day in 1949, when my neighbor Tommy O’Malley and I were playing knucklebones — what you call ‘jacks’ nowadays — in the living room of my family’s house. Tommy accused me of cheating, saying that I was picking up the knucklebones after the ball had already bounced a second time. So I did what any true competitor would do. I smashed my bottle of Faygo root beer against the wall and swung the jagged, broken end at Tommy’s neck. Tommy dodged my lunge and sprinted out of the house, but I chased after him until he slipped on the icy steps of our front porch and fell onto the snow-covered grass. Like a lion with Przyzbillian focus, I leapt on top of him and thrust the shards of glass — still glistening with droplets of root beer — repeatedly into his soft flesh until he finally lay still, bloodied and unconscious. I’ll never forget the sight of his warm blood dripping from his abdomen onto the fresh white snow. I left him there — this was Detroit, after all — and went back inside the house to finish the game. Tommy was right. I had been cheating. But I still won. It’s one of my fondest childhood memories of Christmas.”
Careful where you slam your fists, Lance Stephenson. You may not get them back.
WE’RE JUST HAPPY TO KNOW THAT YOU HAVE FRIENDS
Is it too late to join the Eastern Conference? Asking for a friend.
A LETTER FROM A FARAWAY LAND THAT ISN’T THE EASTERN CONFERENCE
Grady O’Brien: I just moved to a very small town in North Carolina. I mean a very small town. Like, the population density of this place is greater than the actual population (do the math). I think I could pay my rent in Confederate money and not turn any heads.
Now, with this small town living comes advantages (low rent, peaceful neighborhood), but also setbacks. I lived my first four days there without internet before the Time Warner people were able to arrange a visit. I know, I know, four days of unglamorous, off-the-grid, roughing it. It was excruciating.
It was made all the more difficult on Monday when I had to follow the Pacers/Blazers thriller through only tweets and the NBA Game Time app (I still had my smartphone, I’m not a heathen). Based on the razor-thin sliver of the NBA internet I was able to follow on Monday (the majority of which was our editor’s twitter feed), I assume this was the single greatest sporting event to have ever taken place. Basically it was every March Madness buzzer beater crossed with that one old football game with Kathy Lee Gifford’s husband. I assume that when the game was over, all the players agreed to give up any further playing of basketball because they had reached true enlightenment and the pinnacle of human fulfillment.
Meanwhile, I watched “Ocean’s Twelve” for like the ninth time.
I have internet again and therefore LeaguePass. But I’m wondering whether it’s even worth it to continue following basketball this season, now that I missed the NBA game equivalent of the Taj Mahal and the Hagia Sophia and KFC/Taco Bell all fused into one. We’ll see.
[Ed.'s note: special thanks to Confederate stamps for making Grady's letter possible.]
WE READ THE DICTIONARY BECAUSE WE VALUE ITS OPINION
soft / sôft / adj.
1. a noted aversion to touching other human beings in an aggressive manner, resulting in subpar defense, low rebounding relative to positional expectation, and a lack of shots around the basket.
2. perceived by fans to be ill-equipped for long-term survival in hypothetical league-wide bare-knuckle boxing tournament.
3. if locked in prison, would presumably steal spoons from cafeteria to make into lovely commemorative silverware with ornate detailing on handle to send as gifts to relatives, instead of whittling into shanks.
4. can recite names of all Santa’s reindeer.
5. regularly strolls through local pet store to look upon cute animals and imagines potential life together (even with the fish [especially with the fish]).
LaMarcus Aldridge climbed out of LaMarcus Aldridge’s vacuum-sealed overnight container at exactly 7:00AM on Wednesday and poured a bowl of depleted uranium to eat and a glass of molten lava to drink as LaMarcus Aldridge does every morning.
LaMarcus Aldridge arrived at the Moda Center exactly 6 hours before the game to shoot 1000 jump shots from every single infinitely small spot on the court because LaMarcus Aldridge has a quick release and a work ethic.
LaMarcus Aldridge spent the first quarter visually recording every movement and thought of Serge Ibaka and internally calculating how LaMarcus Aldridge could perfectly exploit them later in the game because LaMarcus Aldridge has a technologically advanced visual intake process and a work ethic.
LaMarcus Aldridge marveled at Robin Lopez’s early aggressiveness on offense because that dude is kinda weird and LaMarcus Aldridge has no capability to understand imperfection except for that time Paul Allen showed LaMarcus Aldridge the beta version of Microsoft Word because LaMarcus Aldridge knows word processing because LaMarcus Aldridge has a passion for office software and a work ethic.
LaMarcus Aldridge made LaMarcus Aldridge’s first shot with 7:43 to go in the first quarter and four more points quickly followed because LaMarcus Aldridge knows to strike when LaMarcus Aldridge has the wind conditions and barometric pressure properly calculated.
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 12 points in the first quarter but did not score a point in the second quarter because LaMarcus Aldridge sat on the bench for some time and watched as Kevin Durant and the Thunder built a lead and Terry Stotts received a technical foul for yelling deserved words of violence at the officials that LaMarcus Aldridge will not repeat because LaMarcus Aldridge has a distaste for crude language and a work ethic.
LaMarcus Aldridge spent the halftime interval tightening LaMarcus Aldridge’s focus because LaMarcus Aldridge recognized the need for LaMarcus Aldridge to match Kevin Durant because LaMarcus Aldridge has a mysteriously deep reservoir of competitive fire and a work ethic.
LaMarcus Aldridge hit two quick jumpers for the Blazers’ first four points of the second half to spark an 11-4 run that LaMarcus Aldridge also capped with another jumper to close the Thunder lead to 63-59 before Thunder coach Scotty Brooks called timeout to delay the inevitable doom of his team’s lead because LaMarcus Aldridge is inevitability.
LaMarcus Aldridge then allowed Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum and Wes Matthews to lead a run to take the lead and enjoy their shine because LaMarcus Aldridge is gracious and LaMarcus Aldridge needed people to look elsewhere while LaMarcus Aldridge installed a nuclear reactor in the space around LaMarcus Aldridge’s right shoulder.
LaMarcus Aldridge hit a jumper with 4:43 to go in the third quarter to give the Blazers a three-point lead because LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t that gracious after all and Scotty Brooks immediately called another timeout because he could feel LaMarcus Aldridge ripping the Moda Center out of the ground and lifting it up to the heavens like when the genie in Aladdin is working for Jafar but Scotty didn’t want to go because Scotty is afraid of heights.
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 8 of the Blazers’ final 10 points in the quarter to maintain the Blazers’ 3 point lead because unlike Scotty Brooks, LaMarcus Aldridge is not afraid of heights and the heavens are a place that LaMarcus Aldridge knows very well and LaMarcus Aldridge could probably just stay up there forever because LaMarcus Aldridge has a nuclear reactor in his shoulder and a work ethic.
LaMarcus Aldridge sat down on the bench again to begin the fourth quarter because Terry Stotts has a sense of drama or was point shaving but let’s attribute it to Terry’s Hitchock-ian love of suspense as a Damian Lillard 3-pointer-slash-extinction-event put the Blazers up 7 before Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka pulled the Thunder back.
LaMarcus Aldridge reentered the game with 7:13 to go and the Blazers still leading by three and LaMarcus Aldridge missed his first two jumpers because LaMarcus Aldridge forgot that he was no longer in space and water just doesn’t boil that quickly at ground level in the Willamette Valley.
LaMarcus Aldridge found the bucket again a few minutes later to give the Blazers a one point lead because LaMarcus Aldridge is LaMarcus Aldridge and LaMarcus Aldridge is still inevitability.
LaMarcus Aldridge embarked on LaMarcus Aldridge’s return trip to the heavens with 8 straight points to put the Blazers up 5 with two and a half minutes left before another Thunder comeback attempt was crushed by a Nicolas Batum 3-pointer to put the score at 108-104 with only 30 seconds left.
LaMarcus Aldridge rebounded Kevin Durant’s missed 3-point attempt with 25 seconds left and LaMarcus Aldridge hit two free throws to score LaMarcus Aldridge’s 37th and 38th points of the game and 25 game seconds later, the buzzer sounded on the Blazers’ 111-104 victory.
LaMarcus Aldridge then acknowledged the fans’ chants of “M-V-P,” told the media that it “made the night that much more complete,” and went home to obsessively examine what went wrong in each missed shot and eat a late night snack of depleted uranium because LaMarcus Aldridge has humility and a thirst for perfection and a work ethic.
Ed.’s note: I am proud to welcome The Rip Citizens (Alex, Edwin, and Peter) to the PRS squad. Their podcast will be the first in what will hopefully be a growing PRS Radio series. For more, check out their website.
This week the Citizens discuss the end of the Blazers’ 11-game win streak (and how much we’re tired of talking about Phoenix), beautiful team basketball against the Lakers, and weathering the Paul George rainstorm for a huge (statement.) win to silence the critics.
Then we gaze into our crystal (round)ball at the potential of this squad now that the Blazers sit atop the Western Conference – thanks in part to the impact of Terry Stotts and Neil Olshey.
Finally, we round out the serious talk by discussing how certain Blazers might fare as TV actors. Highlights include Earl Watson as a journeyman detective and Terry Stotts as a sitcom dad.
All that, plus the cold-button issue of juice diets, Mike Rice’s pool-side Tweets, and what Energy Solutions (Utah’s arena sponsor) actually does.