GAME 1, TRAIL BLAZERS 122 – ROCKETS 120 (OT): ON THAT OTHER LEVEL

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LISTEN, I’M NOT IN ANY SORT OF A PLACE TO WRITE A RECAP OF WHAT HAPPENED IN THIS BASKETBALL GAME OR ANY EVENT HAPPENING ANYWHERE. I HAVE NO SENSE OF TIME OR SPACE OR ANYTHING. I CAN’T EVEN REMEMBER LIFE BEFORE THIS GAME STARTED OR IF I EVEN EXISTED BEFORE IT STARTED.

I CANNOT PUT THIS PERFORMANCE INTO ANY KIND OF PERSPECTIVE BECAUSE I HAVE NO PERSPECTIVE.

A SINGLE WESLEY MATTHEWS BUCKET AT SOME POINT IN TIME BROUGHT ME INTO EXISTENCE AND SO MY ENTIRE WORLD BECAME A FLAT TELEVISION SCREEN WITH LIQUID CRYSTALS FLYING AROUND – THE SCIENCE IS NOT SOUND, I KNOW – WITH LIGHTS AND COLORS THAT PUT FORTH A SPECTACULAR PERFORMANCE TO VISUALLY REPLICATE A BASKETBALL GAME THAT WAS HAPPENING IN HOUSTON, TEXAS, AND THE EXPERIENCE WATCHING THOSE CRYSTALS DO THEIR CRYSTAL THING TRIGGERED CHEMICALS IN MY HEAD THAT HAD NEVER BEFORE BEEN TASTED BUT OH MAN DID THEY TASTE DELICIOUS.

HERE ARE SOME ASSORTED THOUGHTS, FUELED BY PEEPS AND JELLY BEANS, ON THAT EXPERIENCE.

Portland Trail Blazers v Houston Rockets, Game 6

LET’S TAKE IT BACK TO A MEMORY I HAVE OF APRIL, 2009.

TWAS THE DAY OF THE BLAZERS FIRST GAME IN THEIR FIRST PLAYOFF SERIES SINCE BEFORE THE AGE OF DARIUS MILES. TWAS SUNNY IN PORTLAND THAT DAY, AS I RECALL. MY BROTHER AND I, HEARTS AND MINDS BOTH AWASH WITH HOPE, STROLLED THROUGH THE ROSE QUARTER SOAKING IN THE RESURRECTED VIBES OF THE RIP CITY RENAISSAINCE AS WELL AS THE SUNSHINE, BOTH OF WHICH FELT LIKE RARE TREATS. WE WENT INTO THE ARENA. WE GOT PO’SHINED. WE WENT TO OUR SEATS. THEN, BEFORE WE COULD EVEN HUSH OUR PUPPIES, YAO MING SCORED LIKE 8 POINTS IN A ROW AND THE ROCKETS WERE UP LIKE 11-2 AND THE BLAZERS ONLY FURTHER COLLAPSED EN ROUTE TO TOTAL DEFEAT.

BLAZER GOD BRANDON ROY LOOKED UNCOMFORTABLE THROUGHOUT MOST OF THAT TERRIBLE SERIES. IN FACT, I MAINTAIN TODAY THAT RUDY FERNANDEZ WAS THE ONLY TRAIL BLAZER WHO ROSE TO MATCH THE GRAVITAS OF THE MOMENT. BUT THE REASON I BRING THIS ALL UP WAS THAT THE MOST TROUBLING ASPECT OF THAT SERIES WAS THE ABUSE PUT UPON A YOUNG LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE BY LUIS SCOLA. SEEING THE FUTURE, AND SUPPOSED PRESENT, OF THE BLAZER FRONTCOURT RELENTLESSLY BULLIED BY A MAN WHOSE GO-TO POST MOVE IS “SWARTHINESS” IS NOT A SIGHT ONE SOON FORGETS. THE SCAR MAY FADE AND LAMARCUS MAY CHANGE THE STORY OF THE SCAR WHEN IN AN INTIMATE SITUATION WITH A YOUNG ALDRETTE, BUT WE WHO WERE THERE WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER THE HORROR.

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LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE HAD 46 POINTS AND 18 REBOUNDS TONIGHT, IN A PLAYOFF GAME, WITH A HOSTILE AND LIVELY CROWD, AGAINST ONE OF THE BEST – IF NOT THE BEST – POST DEFENDER IN THE NBA, IN DWIGHT HOWARD. HE MADE JABBARIAN RUNNING HOOKS OVER DOUBLE TEAMS. HE MADE TWO THREE-POINTERS, THE SECOND OF WHICH COMING AFTER HE PUMP FAKED ON A MIDRANGE JUMPER TO GET HOWARD IN THE AIR, BUT DIDN’T GET THE FOUL CALL WHEN HOWARD SORT OF LANDED ON HIM AND KNOCKED THE BALL LOOSE, SO ALDRIDGE JUST STEPPED BACK AND COLLECTED THE BALL AND BANGED THE THREE RIGHT IN HOWARD’S COUNTENANCE. PUT UP YOUR THREE-FINGERED MONOCLE, MEYERS LEONARD.

THE BLAZER OFFENSE LOOKED PRETTY BAD AT LEAST THROUGHOUT THE MIDDLE OF THIS GAME. POOR BALL MOVEMENT, QUESTIONABLE SHOT SELECTION, A FEW UGLY TURNOVERS, AN INABILITY TO MAKE EVEN THE WIDE OPEN SHOTS FROM BEYOND THE ARC. BUT IT WAS ALDRIDGE WHO CARRIED THE TEAM THROUGH THOSE ROUGH PATCHES AND MOST OF THE SECOND HALF, DECIMATING WHOEVER WAS PUT IN FRONT OF HIM WITH JUMP SHOTS, HARD DRIVES, FOLLOWS ON MISSES, AND EVERYTHING ELSE OUT OF STRUNK AND WHITE’S MANUAL, ELEMENTS OF POST GAME STYLE. WHEN THE BLAZERS ENACTED A CONTROVERSIAL BUT EFFECTIVE “HACK-A-DWIGHT” STRATEGY IN THE FOURTH QUARTER THAT FORCED HOWARD OFF THE FLOOR, ALDRIDGE TREATED TERRENCE JONES MUCH THE WAY THAT ALDRIDGE HAD BEEN TREATED BY SCOLA ALL THOSE YEARS AGO. ALDRIDGE MAY NOT BE A MOST VALUABLE PLAYER CANDIDATE ANYMORE BUT HIS PERFORMANCE TONIGHT WAS THAT OF A HALL OF FAMER, THE BEST PERFORMANCE THAT I CAN REMEMBER FROM A BLAZER WHO WAS NOT RIDING ON THE WINGS OF ANGELS FOR ONE FINAL BLAZE OF GLORY. TONIGHT TWAS PURE HEROISM.

REMEMBER WHEN I SAID I HAD NO PERSPECTIVE ANYMORE?

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EVER SINCE BONZI THREW DOUBLE BIRDS AT THE CUSTOMERS AND QYNTEL WAS DECORATING THE WALLS OF HIS HOUSE IN DOG BLOOD, THERE HAS SEEMED TO BE A NOTICEABLE, IF UNDERSTANDABLE, ABSENCE OF BAD-ASSERY IN THE ON-COURT ATTITUDE OF THE BLAZERS. THE FRONT OFFICE WANTED PLAYERS WHO WOULD BE SPOTTED TAKING PICTURES WITH KIDS OUTSIDE LOCAL FOOD TRUCKS AT LUNCHTIME, NOT BLOWING TREES IN THE PARKING LOT OF A SHARI’S AT 4AM. AND SO IF THAT MEANT SACRIFICING THE FREQUENCY OF HARD FOULS AND DUDES SWAGGERING AROUND AFTER DUNKS AND TELLING SOFT EUROPEAN BIG MEN TO GO BACK TO OLIVE GARDEN, WELL THAT’S JUST HOW IT HAD TO BE FOR A WHILE.

BUT, AS SOMEBODY WHO RELISHES IN THE BAD-ASSERY OF TEAMS LIKE THE GRIZZLIES AND PACERS—WELL, BAD EXAMPLE RIGHT NOW, BUT YOU GET THE IDEA—I HAPPILY NOTICED THAT IT WAS THE BLAZERS WHO CAME OUT AND SET A VILLAINOUS TONE EARLY AND OFTEN AND SHOWED THAT THEY WOULD NOT BE PUNKED BY THESE ROCKETS.

THOMAS ROBINSON, THE BAD-ASSIEST, ENTERED THE GAME FOR HIS FIRST MINUTES IN THE FIRST HALF AND IMMEDIATELY ATTEMPTED THE SORT OF DUNK THAT COULD IMPREGNATE VIEWERS, MALE OR FEMALE. LATER IN THE GAME, HE HARD FOULED THE HOLLOW SOUL OF PATRICK BEVERLEY, WHO WOULD HIMSELF LATER BE THE RECIPIENT OF ANOTHER SOMEWHAT HARD FOUL, DEEMED A FLAGRANT, BY MO WILLIAMS. ROBIN LOPEZ RECEIVED A TECHNICAL FOUL FOR HURTING DWIGHT HOWARD’S FEELINGS, AS THE TWO BIG MEN HURLED INSULTS AND LOOSE LIMBS AT ONE ANOTHER FOR MOST OF THE NIGHT.

THE BLAZERS LOOKED GULLY, AND IT’S HARD TO THINK THAT SOME GULLINESS DID NOT COME IN HANDY WHEN GRINDING BACK FROM A DOUBLE-DIGIT FOURTH QUARTER DEFICIT.

OF COURSE, I WOULD BE REMISS IN DISCUSSING GULLINESS IF I DID NOT SPEAK OF DAMIAN LILLARD OF OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA. LIKE HIS TEAM IN GENERAL, THE GAME DID NOT KNEEL DOWN IN FRONT OF YOUNG DAMIAN AND BESTOW UPON HIM THE JEWELS OF ROYALTY. HE HAD TO GO OUT AND STEAL THOSE JEWELS – RUN THE JEWELS, OR, “GET UP OFF THEM GODDAMN DIAMONDS,” IN THE WORDS OF THE MASH OUT POSSE.

WHILE BEVERLEY HARASSED HIM FROM THE OPENING TIP AND PROBABLY BEFORE THAT TOO, LILLARD OVERCAME. HE’S TOO TOUGH AND PROUD AND QUIETLY FEROCIOUS TO ALLOW A SIMPLE HEEL LIKE BEVERLEY TO DISRUPT HIS GAME. OVER THE COURSE OF THE GAME, LILLARD BEGAN TO LOOK MORE AND MORE COMFORTABLE IN THE PICK-AND-ROLL, LIKE HE SOLVED THE PUZZLE OF THE HOUSTON DEFENSE AND REALIZED EXACTLY WHAT HE NEEDED TO DO TO SET UP OPPORTUNITIES FOR DEATH-DEFYING ASSAULTS AT THE RIM. WHEN HIS JUMPER WASN’T FALLING, THOSE ASSAULTS PUT HIM ON THE FREE THROW LINE AND DID THEIR PART TO PUT HOWARD INTO FOUL TROUBLE. THEN, DURING THE “HACK-A-HOWARD” STRETCH OF THE GAME, LILLARD FOUND HIS COMPLETE SCORING FORM, CULMINATING IN A SILLY PULL-UP LEANING THREE-POINTER FROM TWO STEPS BEYOND THE ARC DURING WHICH HE WAS FOULED AND STILL MADE THE SHOT (THOUGH HE MISSED THE ENSUING FREE THROW). A FEW MINUTES LATER, LILLARD WOULD HIT THE THREE-POINTER TO TIE THE GAME AT 104 AND, AFTER TWO JAMES HARDEN FREE THROWS AND A ALDRIDGE TIP-IN OF A LILLARD MISSED TIP-IN OF A WES THREE-POINTER WITH TWO SECONDS LEFT, SEND THE GAME TO OVERTIME.

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THE OFFICIATING WAS TERRIBLE. THE BLAZERS DID NOT SHOOT WELL, OR PLAY OFFENSE WELL, FOR MOST OF THE GAME. MO WILLIAMS WAS ATROCIOUS. DWIGHT HOWARD KIND OF DOMINATED ROBIN LOPEZ ON THE BLOCK. PATRICK BEVERLEY WAS MADDENING. DORELL WRIGHT PROBABLY PLAYED TOO MUCH. THOMAS ROBINSON PROBABLY DIDN’T PLAY ENOUGH. THE BLAZERS FELL BEHIND BY 11 WITH 4 MINUTES TO GO. BUT STILL, SOMEHOW, ON THE GRACE OF TWO OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCES BY DAMIAN LILLARD AND MOST OF ALL LAMARCUS ALDIRDGE, THE BLAZERS MANAGED TO WIN. NONE OF IT IS PROBABLY RELIABLE TO BE COUNTED UPON FOR THE NEXT GAME, BUT LIKE THE CLICHÉ SAYS, EACH GAME IS ITS OWN INDIVIDUAL UNIVERSE SEPARATE FROM OVERALL NARRATIVE, AND LIKE I READ ON THE LIPS – OR LIKE I WANTED TO READ ON THE LIPS – OF AN ASSISTANT CONGRATULATING STOTTS AS SOON AS HARDEN’S FINAL SHOT MISSED AND THE BUZZER SOUNDED, “WHAT A FUCKING WIN.”

TRAIL BLAZERS VS ROCKETS – SERIES PREVIEW

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Ed.’s Note: In lieu of a traditional preview, Corbin and I discussed our thoughts on the series as well as our hopes, fears, dreams, aspirations, dreams, hopes, and fears. Also, we are well aware that we did not use the proper spelling of the opponent team’s name or the names of its players, but this is the playoffs and disrespecting opponents’ humanity begins now.

CORBIN: Joe, I gotta say, I am FEELING very good about this series for our trusty Portland Trail Blazers.

 

JOE: Really? I feel good about this series but my feelings should not be trusted. I once believed that Meyers Leonard and J. J. Hickson were a match made in frontcourt heaven (think of the high-lows!). I need you to tell me how crazy I am. I need you to squash my hopes.

 

CORBIN: Well, Joe, normally I would do that. I am a bitter and sad man whose only joys come in the form of old Baseball Prospectuses and seeing the things I love crushed. For instance, I might normally say something like, “The Blazers have a terrible defense, and an especially bad pick and roll defense, one that has been lit up by teams like the Losetown Sock-its, and in fact, the Socks themselves, all year.” But, I dunno, I just have a good FEELING about this one!

 

JOE: I expected you to appease my swirling thoughts with math and reason, but you’re saying that feelings are all you have? Feelings are all I have, Corbin, but I had hopes for you. I thought you were an analyst.

 

CORBIN: I was, until I learned about girls, yessireebob! The old me would have looked at these teams’ regular season matchups: a 116-101 Smocks victory in November, a 111-104 Blazers victory in December, a 126-113 Pet Rocks victory in January, and a “pretty devastating” 118-113 Blazer overtime loss in March, and determined that the Blazers’ crummy defense (107.4 points surrendered per hundred possessions, 22nd in the league) is going to have trouble keeping up with the Lockets’ atomic powered spread screen and roll attack (111 points per hundred possessions, 4th in the NBA.). BUT THE NEW ME is looking at that Damian Lillard guy and saying “Hey, who can guard that dude!?” Now that point guard P-Lick Blurry has been arrested by the NSA!

 

JOE: *imagining P-Lick Blurry being waterboarded in a secret prison until he admits that Damian Lillard didn’t actually touch his face that one time* *also grinning*

 

CORBIN: And hey, the old me might point out that Sugar Land stars Fright High-Fjord and Japes Hard-Ones averaged FIFTY FIVE AND A HALF POINTS against the Blazers this year and that Robin Lopez doesn’t have the horizontal foot speed to guard them on screen and rolls or the strength to cover Delight in post-ups. But the new me, the me that is a hit with the ladies and a friend to all my brosephs, thinks, “Hey that Lames Larden with his, frankly, girly flopping and his ‘shooting into contact’ and ‘gunning for high value shots, like threes and foul shots’ might seem useful to eggheads, but is it really honest? And do people really win sports championships when they’re dishonest? Not to mention that D’Wait How-Weird character–so what if he looked terrific this year after his mishaps in LA? Give me a tough dude who scowls all the time, like that Kendrick Perkins, WHO HAS A RING over some JOKER who “gets an insane number of rebounds” or “blows up pick and rolls” or “blocks shots at the rim.” If he had a winner’s attitude, would he want Kobe to yell at him? Isn’t that how JOBS work? Isn’t Chamber Parsnips a little PRETTY to go all the way?

 

JOE: Sorry I got kinda lost there in the dream of P’Tricky Boo Fairly getting tortured until he admits that he’s evil. In my dream, the prison was in Illinois and Meyers Leonard was there. He was wearing a mask. He was eating an ice cream cone. But anyways, yeah, so the Blazers are gonna win because they represent a more traditional stereotype of masculinity?

 

CORBIN: Absolutely.  Joe, lemme tell you about men. Men win basketball games, and other games. LaMarcus Aldridge is a man. Damian Lillard: Man. Robin Lopez: a longhair, for certain, but still a man. I crunched some numbers, and the Blazers are worth exactly 5 MUPs more than the Grouseton Flock of Kids; that’s Men Ubove Replacement, Joseph.

 

JOE: I think I might be the baseline for a replacement-level man. Last night I got a little choked up at the end of Friday Night Lights and then again during Jurassic Park when the one Velociraptor watched the T-Rex kill the other Velociraptor because Velociraptors just seem to value relationships so much and seeing one left to survive alone just tugs at the heartstrings and–HEY! HOW ABOUT THOSE MATCHUPS HUH? YOU THINK LILLARD HANDLES POLICE BEVERAGE’S PRESSURE? WILL LAMARCUS STRUGGLE AGAINST THOSE STRETCHED FOURS OF HOUSTON?

 

CORBIN: If they can keep from being ground into pesto by the giant spikes on his ass!

 

JOE: Whose ass are we talking about? And are you sure that’s how you make pesto?

 

CORBIN: Yes. That Tear-quince Moans character will get starts when he’s not harassing the local homeless, and he’s been like a -200 against the Blazers because LaMarcus dominates Moans’ small and weak body. Home-Free Castle-Pee also has a small and weak body, but he can shoot threes so he’s more useful than Moans. Cranberry Spittoons, a very handsome young man who starts at their other wing is a dilettante power forward who will get minutes against Aldridge. He would probably be able to get LMA out of his comfort zone by shooting all those threes if threes ever went in, in the playoffs. The Blazers could try to matchup and go small with Dorell Wright, if they decide to adopt the coward lifestyle.

 

JOE: Is there any possibility that the Blazers could convince LaMarcus to play center, thus matching the Rockets small lineups while pulling Howard away from the basket too?

 

CORBIN: No. If LaMarcus plays center even once, I will regard the series as won.

 

JOE: If only the Blazers had another 7-foot athlete with a big body and a pretty jump shot who could bang with D’Right Showered on one end and drag him outside on the other end…

 

CORBIN: Yeah, if only. …wait, what about…

 

CORBIN AND JOE: MEYERS LEONARD!!!!!

 

JOE: WHAT IF HIS WHOLE SEASON HAS BEEN A WAY TO HIDE HIS TRUE PURPOSE AS PLAYOFF SECRET WEAPON AND NOW WE WILL SEE HIM UNVEILED IN ALL OF HIS GLORY?

 

CORBIN: Joe, it’s not a what if, obviously. It’s an “It was.” I mean, Rasheed Wallace would purposely avoid using his post game so that it wouldn’t show up on post-season scouting reports, or that’s what he told people! I can’t believe Meyers sacrificed his regular season stats for the team like this. So brave.

 

JOE: I hope he gets his own flavor of ice cream at Salt and Straw for such courage and I hope it tastes like the sacrificial blood of a virgin.

 

CORBIN: Joe, is it possible that you just want Virgin Blood flavored ice cream?

 

JOE: Enough about me, what role do you see Will Barton playing in this series?

 

CORBIN: Frankly, I think he will shoot lightning bolts of of his fingers and guide the ball into the basket.

 

JOE: Ooooh, I read about that in his Draft Express profile.

 

CORBIN: I am a little worried about Nico Batum assassinating the mayor of Boosieton in the name of French independence from British rule. The Mayor of Boosieton is a member of the Royal Family.

 

JOE: Sorry I don’t see how that’s a concern. What I’m seeing is a girly basketball team inhabited by under-replacement level men in a soon-to-be leaderless dystopia, while the Blazers will have Meyers Leonard shedding his Clark Kent act and Will Barton shooting laser beams from his fingers and LaMarcus making pesto with his ass spikes. I mean, how could the Blazers even lose this series with all of that? My only remaining concern is Mo Williams. This might all hinge on the play of Mo, right?


CORBIN: …you know, I am afraid I don’t know who that is, and I need to get to a Bar Mitzvah and I forgot how to use Basketball Reference altogether. Hella gone! *Jumps out of window*

PRS RADIO: THE RIP CITIZENS – THE PLAYOFF PREVIEW SHOW

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Well folks, we decided to let the rest of the season play out and come back for the preview show, which brings us to this moment. We start off by looking back on the season and sharing our favorite moments and highlights of a fantastic and unexpected year. Then we dive right into the playoff preview by breaking down matchups, crunching some numbers, and get off on a tangent talking about the movie ‘Breaking Away’ starring a young Dennis Quaid.

All that, plus we hand out Chilly Willy’s awards (that he chose and we had to do), Mo Williams’ sock game, and Meyers Leonard’s ability to be ejected quickly.

If you don’t want to bother with this SoundCloud gadget, you may find the iTunes subscription option a helpful one.

TRAIL BLAZERS 110 – CLIPPERS 104: DREAM CAUSED BY THE FLIGHT OF A BEE AROUND A POMEGRANATE A SECOND BEFORE AWAKENING

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Allegedly this game meant nothing. LaMarcus Aldridge wore a suit and was listening to the Suit half of that Nelly album and not the Sweat half, metaphorically. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and J. J. Redick all stayed home in Southern California. Kias to move and poems to write, you know the grind. Chris Paul probably didn’t even watch, likely opting instead to spend the night researching the imagined ancestry of him and his alter ego Cliff (“Cliff” is obviously just Chris Paul wearing a mustache and a sweater vest but we have to maintain his delusion lest he suffer a devastating mental break so bear with me). But while Chris (and Cliff I guess) were researching their ancestry and finding something horrible like his (their) great-great-great-great-grandfather *assisted* in the colonization and destruction of all peoples and societies and cultures native to the pre-Columbian Americas, and you were doing whatever is you decided to do instead of watch basketball – spending time with your family or cats or whatever – there was magic happening in the A La Mode Center. Of course it was the Yung Leonard Bernstein Wizard, Will Barton, who was the one wielding the baton.

The first quarter was weird because it almost looked like the Blazers were actually trying to win. What assholes! Frankie Muniz (Lol! Frankie Muniz! Frankie loves his Clips! Lol! [wait did Frankie Muniz die? {nah I just looked it up and he’s still alive!}]) was out there running at the three spot for Doc Rivers. Meanwhile, Terry Stotts put out his normal starters with the exception of Dorell Wright in place of the bespoke suited Aldridge. The Clippers barely even pretended to play defense and the Blazers starters shot plenty of wide-open three-pointers, with a little too much enthusiasm in doing so, if you ask me. Like, just because someone is paralyzed, it doesn’t mean you get to tickle his or her feet all you want. Fortunately, that kind of macho competitive-driven desecration of what was to be a fun and meaningless game was limited to only the opening period.

The second quarter was a dream. Like seriously, I had this dream. It was in July. I had spent a week or so watching entirely too much summer league basketball and it was hot and maybe I had a few Rainiers because I’m a free-spirited cat who digs on Yakima Valley hops, and I had this delirious vision of Will Barton as a playmaking point guard like a bebop Rajon Rondo next to C. J. McCollum while Victor Claver filled in the gaps and Meyers Leonard didn’t look too upsetting. It was a great dream. But then I watched (almost) a full season of basketball and realized that maybe those Yakima Valley hops were greener than I thought and getting Will Barton as a wild card bench dude for short bursts would be the best thing I could hope for, at least for the near future. But then tonight happened. Yeah, I know, it doesn’t count, it was against Frankie Muniz, I get it. But holy cow watching Barton put the offense (and the game [and the whole world]) in his crazy polyrhythmic hands, and get everyone involved, and devising insane finishes like a kid who draws a crude picture resembling a bicycle wearing a hamburger and says it’s a picture of his family, and do that for 35 minutes(!!!), yo I’ll remember that forever tho.

The second half began kind of poorly, or so we thought, well actually yeah, it was pretty poor. Whatever. I’d rather not talk about it, to be honest. Anyway, despite its poverty, it was also a blessing in disguise. Climb inside that cloud and let its silver lining bathe you in the reflected light of the glorious sun at the center of our entire solar system, and that mighty sun was the Will Barton-Jamal Crawford contest through the fourth quarter.

Sometime in the third quarter, I think Barton started to figure out that his teammates (Victor Claver excepted) did not look particularly good. Also, I think he also might have decided that Terry Stotts probably wasn’t even watching this game anyway. So instead of trying to run the offense with precision and order, he danced and careened around the court at high speed until he found either Claver or a shot, whichever happened first, which usually was a shot. As for the Clippers, when the game becomes an open and anarchic celebration of fun, Jamal Crawford blossoms. And so, the two artists traded feats of creativity and it reminded me of when my grandpa told me that in Ohio during the Great Depression, sometimes they would all gather up by the train tracks to watch a show of two locomotives running head-on into each other (the engineers would jump out in time). The Great Depression sounded fun! But I bet it wasn’t nearly as fun as Jamal Crawford and Will Barton, probably not even close.

After the game, Will Barton spoke to the media:

“Hello everyone. I love you and I love basketball and I love being able to share it with you. Growing up back in Baltimore – B-More, stand up! – my friend Salvador Dali used to say, ‘I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.’ I don’t do drugs either. Well, I guess I do eat a lot of those Haribo joints that look like Coke bottles. Those take me to my proper spiritual plane. But I digress. Man, the rim was just so big out there tonight. You ever seen a unicorn house? They have big solariums. Unicorn horns could do a lot of damage to the glasswork in a normal-sized solarium, you know. So there I was, guys. I was in a unicorn solarium tonight, communing with Salvador. You can say this game means nothing but when does a game mean anything? Art doesn’t mean anything either. Think on that, kids. I am drugs. One.”

TRAIL BLAZERS VS. CLIPPERS PREVIEW: FADE TO BLACK

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Tonight’s game isn’t pointless. There are arena employees who are getting paid for working, players stepping on the court to play well and showcase themselves, people who paid for a ticket to watch people play basketball (Maybe not these specific people, for the amount of time they will play.), three television crews will be filming the game.

But, yeah, as far as Portland’s playoff standing is concerned, pretty pointless. Yesterday Sotts told gathered reporters that Lillard, Matthews, Batum, and Lopez will only receive cursory minutes to attain the 82-games-played mark and Aldridge and Williams will probably not play. This is good: resting is good, resting your players before the playoffs is helpful, especially when the Blazers’ starters have played a ton of minutes this year. Joel Freeland, a British person who was the Blazer’s third big off the bench before an MCL sprain around the All-Star break, will play in five minute stretches. Joel could be useful in the playoffs, especially if the Blazers get out of the first round and away from the Rockets’ stretch 4 platoon.

In lieu of the starters you’ve come to love for their virtues and resent for their limitations, the Blazers’ bench will get a ton of minutes; Earl Watson! Meyers Leonard! Thomas Robinson getting a postup drawn up for him! Will Barton! On the Clippers’ side,  they’ve left behind Blake Griffin (He got a 16th technical today for hitting, guess who, Timofey Mozgov in the face on a drive and will maybe be suspended if it doesn’t get rescinded.), starting Shooting Guard JJ Reddick and guard-of-note Chris Paul. As far as a Clippers bench only lineup goes, they’re not in as sorry shape as the Blazers in that regard: Darren Collison is pretty good, Jamal Crawford has been good on nearly every team he’s played on. Then again, they might try to lose on purpose to avoid the playing the Grizzlies, the Clippers’ blood rival who have become underseeded because of injury problems in the middle of the year. I get that everyone is scared of the Warriors because of spooky ghost-boy Steph Curry’s supernatural shooting but their defense is going to be a lot worse with Andrew Bogut sideline with a cracked rib.

TRAIL BLAZERS 119 – WARRIORS 117 (OT): YOU CAN’T STOP A TRAIN

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I wish I could say that even if the Trail Blazers had lost on Sunday night in the MoMA Center to the visiting Warriors of Golden State, I would still be able to look upon the game that was, behold its rare magnificence, and allow it to percolate deep into the areas of my soul beyond simple loyalty to the shirts bearing the name of the city – or nickname, as Portland donned the “Rip City” alternate joints on this night – in which I grew up. I suppose that’s sort of what the dudes at Free Darko meant when they were professing “liberated fandom,” the idea that basketball can every so often bless us with a game or a player or a moment that taps into the simplest reason for which we watch and renders all other reasons irrelevant. Back before favorite teams were selected and flags of loyalty were hoisted, watching basketball was all about getting hooked on that joy when the aesthetics and drama of the sport collide and seem to overpower the laws of physics and the game becomes surreal and yo sorry I’m getting all Tom Rinaldi in here.

What I’m saying is, HOLY SHIT THIS WAS A FUCKING BASKETBALL GAME.

Even the box score, normally the non-descript concrete exterior hiding the wild speakeasy inside, is straight out of Antoni Gaudí’s dreams. Stephen Curry had 47 points on 29 shots, 7-14 from three-point range. Nicolas Batum had 18 points on 9 shots, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block. Mo Williams had 18 points on 10 shots. Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut recorded +26 and +24 plus/minus ratings, respectively. LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points and Wes Matthews had 24 points. Klay Thompson had 25 points, 6-10 from three-point range, before fouling out. Somehow, Mareese Speights even managed the nearly impossible line of 0 minutes, 0 points, 0 everything, without getting a DNP-CD.

OK enough numbers, story time now.

There was, some time ago, a first quarter. And like many first quarters before it, this first quarter began poorly for the Trail Blazers. The Warriors controlled most of the first period with play from Iguodala and Curry and David Lee, though Aldridge was actually effective and seemed intent on asserting himself early and throughout the game.

Since the injury to his tailbone region, and probably some time before that, Aldridge hadn’t been quite the player that he had been in October and November and December, when Kevin Love feared for his power forward kingdom and the “M-V-P” chants were not entirely accurate, but not entirely ironic. Some of Aldridge’s mid-season decline was natural regression, sure. Shooting endless contested midrange jumpers is not normally the path to lasting happiness for the modern man, even if that man is a 6’11”, 240-pound mountain of silk. But there was something else, too. Aldridge just didn’t look to have his rhythm, his confidence, his aura, all of the other words we use to describe the intangible quality of a scorer in form. Though he only finished the game at a modest 11-23 from the field, he had it tonight. I saw it.

This was a game of many peaks – think of that shot from Planet Earth of the Himalayas, all big and icy and shit – and the first one came at the end of the first quarter. It was built by Thomas Robinson and it was volcanic.

Early in the season, Robinson knew his role as the rebound-getter. He couldn’t really shoot, he wasn’t a stupendous defender, but he could jump and he was strong and he had hands and he could be ill-tempered when he wanted to be, and so rebounding was his thing. But lately, he’s come to realize that while rebounding is the tangible product that he can tout, his true role encompasses the more abstract realm of energy creation. He is put on the court to instantly awaken the spirits of his teammates like they were all of a sudden wearing headphones blasting Outkast’s “B.O.B.” into their eardrums which would probably be damaging to said eardrums and definitely against the rules of the NBA and not nearly as much fun to watch as Robinson, who created plenty energy in this game. His shift at the end of the first quarter was like watching a bull in a shop of stuff that bulls love – red blankets, etc. – but rather than money the bull economy is based on smashing things and so Robinson was very rich and bought everything in the store, a performance that he capped off with a ridiculous one handed bank shot off the top of the backboard while falling flat onto his back in front of the basket with less than a minute left in the first quarter to give the Blazers a 4-point lead.

The second quarter featured turnovers, horrible fouls, and other things that I would rather not rehash during this celebration of basketball. In fact, while the third quarter featured some nice moments of Wes Matthews doing manly things like running on floating logs while he shot three-pointers, everything was only a set-up for what would come in the fourth quarter.

So first, there was the Mo Williams Liberation Variety Show. Sweet Mo, noted objector to Lil Boosie’s former incarceration, played with the liberated heart of a man who knows that Boosie is free and somewhere out there in the world living life and enjoying what this planet has to offer. Liberation is critical for Mo, who has been shackled most of the season by the chains of expectation and/or position. Mo isn’t really a point guard, he’s not a great passer, and he seems to have a propensity for irrational behavior on the basketball court, especially with the ball in his hands. But he needs that. He’s at his best when he’s getting a bit out of control, not trying to run offense like a responsible adult, but just scurrying around with the ball and firing pull-up jumpers, as he was in the early part of the final period.

But then, Steph Curry happened, and Steph Curry really is more of an event sometimes than he is a person. A 10-point lead became a 1-point deficit as Curry put the court on tilt. Remember that mention of surrealism earlier? That’s what happens when Curry gets into a groove like he did in this game. Pull-up three, pull-up three, weird one-handed floater. The laws of physics still seem to make sense but they’re now in the employ of Curry. When he would finally miss a shot, it felt like someone slapping you out of a dream, not that you necessarily wanted to leave that dream anyway.

The final few minutes, and the ensuing overtime, were an onslaught of enormous buckets that could each exist as their own universe, if they weren’t all being crammed into the same one. Klay Thompson for three to cut the lead to one. Curry bucket for the lead. Wes Matthews gets to the free throw line, sinks both, and takes the lead back. Thompson with another deep jumper, this one just inside the line. Aldridge free throws. Matthews free throws. Blazers up three with seconds left. Draymond Green (of all the gin joints in all the world…) gets free beyond the arc at the buzzer and sends the game to overtime.

Of the 12 points that the Warriors scored in overtime, 9 came on three-pointers from Thompson and Curry. But Matthews, hardy old-fashioned miner that he is, kept hitting away with his metaphorical pickaxe. He played stout defense, he hit a couple shots, got some help from Batum and Aldridge in particular, and when a terrifyingly wide open Andre Iguodala missed what would’ve been a game-winning three-pointer in the final seconds, it was Wes who snatched the rebound to seal the win.

You watch a season of basketball, you pay an exorbitant amount for League Pass, you hunt down the best illegal streams, you sneak off into a back room at some boring family event, or whatever else you do, all in the hopes that you might find a game like this. Of course, if Iguodala’s shot had gone in, I probably wouldn’t have written all these words and instead just threw a video up there and went to bed.

BLAZERS VS. WARRIORS PREVIEW: JACK STRAW

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What are the Blazers playing for?

1. They COULD switch places with Houston, but the chance of that happening is pretty unlikely. The best possible Blazers’ record is 54-28, the worst possible Houston record is 53-29 BUT: The Blazers’ last two games are against The Clippers and Warriors (Both Good) and Houston’s last two games are against the Pelicans (Bad and without Davis) and the Spurs (Good). Even if the Blazers win out, It’s hard to imagine that the Rockets won’t at least beat the Pelicans and go at least 54-28 and take the higher seed by tiebreaker.

2. Golden State could overtake them for 5th of the Blazer lose their last two games and the Warriors win their last three games (Blazers and Timberwolves and Nuggets, a hard game and two likely wins, unless they give up 28 rebounds to Mozgov again.). This would slot both teams at 52-30, and the Warriors would take the higher seed by tiebreaker (Having gone 3-1 against the Blazers, including a theoretical win tonight.). If the Blazers win tonight, they will keep the 5th seed.

The Warriors and Blazers have played three previous games this season. The first was a 113-101 Blazers road win back on November 23rd, the second a 103-88 Warriors victory behind 38 on 23 shots from Curry and the third a VERY frustrating 113-112 Blazers loss behind 37 on 24 shots from Curry, a wide-ass open go ahead 3 pointer from Klay Thompson and a missed foul shot from Batum.

The Blazers are terrible at guarding Curry, particularly around picks. Lillard is, like, unbelievably god awful at going around a pick to get a good contest and Curry is gooder at shooting three pointers quickly and off a dribble than any basketball player ever. A + B = Curry gets a clean look against the Blazers pretty much any time someone sets a high screen for him.  They occasionally occasionally deal with this by switching on a pick, which puts Curry in a mismatch that he works for a closer shot, often a midrange 2 which is definitely a worse shot than the three off the pick or dumps off to a postup possession from whatever player has a post-up mismatch. Warriors coach Mark Jackson has a hard-on for postup mismatches, even when the posting up player is maybe not great at it. Watch for old Jermaine O’Neal creating on the block for no good reason if some power forward gets put on his back. Just let them have it, I say. It’s not as effective as Curry or Thompson jacking up a three. I suppose that In an ideal world, Lillard would be better at defense and the Blazers could hold Curry to 30 points on 26 shots. This is probably not going to be the case this year or maybe ever, so they should probably just give up and switch. Effort can only get you so far when you are always hustling your way right into some giant dude’s torso.

Don’t think too hard about the Warriors’ offense, it will drive you crazy. They’re scoring scoring 107.2 points per hundred possessions, the 12th best mark in the league, with a roster that would probably drop napalm on opposing defenses if it just ran spread screen and roll like every other modern elite-point-guard-centric team. Their defense is a lot better: 102.2 points per hundred possessions, the 4th best mark in the league. Andre Igoudola and Andrew Bogut are very good at defense.

TRAIL BLAZERS 111 – JAZZ 99: THE BELIEVER

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Something happened tonight that has never happened in the history of Trail Blazers basketball and that thing is the Blazers completing a season sweep over the Utah Jazz. Damn, I wish I had the words to describe this feeling. I guess I can say that bearing witness to such history makes a man feel big, like in the infinity of time and the breadth of all existence we were lucky enough to be here for this one moment, but it also makes a man feel small, like our lives feel so much more insignificant when compared with such achievement (the Utah Jazz! The team of Stockton! Malone! Gobert!). In any case, surely all who saw will remember forever exactly where they were tonight, when it happened.

As for me, I was on my couch, wondering how 26 years of living led me to a place in which I was spending a Friday evening alone watching my playoff-bound favorite basketball team struggle throughout the first half to defend Alec Burks and Enes Kanter. Remember when I wanted to be a paleontologist when I grew up? Of course you do. Think about where I could have been had I pursued that career with a bit more gusto. I could have been attending a lecture tonight on ornithopods, and the Mesozoic Era in general. Or maybe I could have been out there in the Badlands with Dr. Alan Grant, scaring kids with Velociraptor claws – who knows? I had such a bright future once [sigh]. ALEC BURKS AND ENES KANTER.

The American Atheists organization has made some news in recent years due to its struggle to secure pro-atheism billboards in Utah (their director went so far as to liken the Mormon control of Utah to the mafia’s power in Italy). But fear not, atheists of Utah and elsewhere. The first three quarters of tonight’s game were the best advertisement for the absence of a higher power doling out fates based on morality that money could buy. In addition to the aforementioned production of Burks and Kanter against the clean-living and right-thinking Blazers, Rudy Gobert looked marginally coordinated (AS THOUGH POSSESSED BY DEMONS), Derrick Favors (“Derrick Favors” is an anagram of “I <3 SATAN”) had 21 points, Richard Jefferson looked rejuvenated in his old age (HIS SOUL MUST BELONG TO LUCIFER), and Trey Burke (Trey=3, 3+3=6, 666=NUMBER OF THE BEAST) was 4 of 6 (66.6 PERCENT) from three-point range. Even the sweet formerly incorruptible child of Indiana, Gordon Hayward, wore depressing early-beard scruff, his face reminiscent of a once wholesome and God-fearing small town that had let its children pierce their ears and listen to the rock-n-roll music, and now Main Street was all boarded up and meth-heads scurried around where innocent children once frolicked with those wheel things that you spin with a stick – again, this was all happening on his face. Also, jazz is the Devil’s music.

Before the game, apparently Jefferson remarked that it felt like Portland in the arena, and while that is a strikingly accurate commentary on the homogenous milky complexion of both cities’ residents, he was supposedly talking about the amount of Blazer fans in attendance who made themselves heard during player introductions. The Mikes, who would never dream of stretching the definition of truth to promote the Trail Blazer way of life, expanded on the presence of Blazer fans by describing the love that Utah has for former Weber State Wildcat and Ogden, Utah, resident, Damian Lillard. Before you wonder if a small-school player who never made it to the NCAA Tournament could really entice that many people to attend a cosmically bleak late-season Jazz-Blazers tilt, just remember that Utah—well, let’s just say that there’s a history of following a dynamic leader into an apparently bleak place that others had long ignored, under the belief that the leader would build Zion.

And behold, Zion was built by Damian. Early in the fourth quarter, the Blazers led by four points. Then Lillard hit four straight three-pointers, with two free throws and an Aldridge bucket sandwiched in the middle. The Blazers then led by eleven points. A few minutes later, Meyers Leonard got to play and the utopian society of the righteous had finally been created by the Latterest Day Saint.

 

According to the box score, someone named Diante Garrett played 8 minutes for the Jazz and somehow recorded a -15 plus/minus rating in that time. I don’t know who that is and have no recollection of his time on the court.

TRAIL BLAZERS @ JAZZ PREVIEW: FIRST LIGHT

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A-Skee-bop-adooldey-doo! Hey there cats and kittens, your main jazzbo brother Corbin Smith here to tell you about the skeebop a doodley doo Utah Jazzy-wazzy (24-54), who are playing the Portland Trail Blazzy-erszies (51-28) tonight at the Electricity Center in Heptown, USA (Salt Lake City, Utah).

Now the Jazzmen are a pretty-skittie terrible-wearable team. Their O-F bangs out jams to the tune of 103.2 points per hundred possess-i-ohs, the 25th worst tune in the NBA. Their defensive rhythms are even worse, a HIGHLY unsnappable 111.1 points per hundred possess-i-ohs. The Jazz have had three previous jam sessions with the Blaze Quintet this year and got the beat every time, 98-130 in December, 94-105 three days after that, and 94-102 later in the season. The Blazers are hoping to play a solo on a broom guitar and SWEEP UP the season series tonight. Skee-deedle-ee-boo-dap.

What funky fellas are on the Jazz combo? Well you got Gordon Hayward, their lead guitarist, who is probably playing too many solos and would work better as a rhythm guitarist. Trey Burke, a star saxy-phone player in the world of college Jazz, having a suboptimal rookie season in the NBA. Derrick Favors, a serviceable presence behind the stand up bass. Richard Jefferson, the noise music pioneer who sits in the back and leans his guit-ar against amplifiers. His work conjures uncanny feelings that unnerve the listener on a very deep level. “This looks like basketball, but it feels like something else. Something so banal that it threatens to drag me into a morass.”

Tonight’s game is a candidate for the least anticipated NBA game of the year. The Blazers are a mid-seed playoff team, pretty much locked into their spot, playing a crummy ass Jazz team who probably want to lose, deep down inside. What’s getting anyone jacked for the tonight? “Oh man, can’t wait to watch Hayward and Batum match up!” “Trey Burke wants to prove himself against Damian Lillard!” That could actually be a problem if Damian runs into enough picks.  “LaMarcus Aldridge!” “You guys think Mike Rice is going to make up some slanderous shit about a ref’s personal life after a tenuous foul call on Lopez?” If you have strong feelings about how this game turns out you are a gambling addict.

Two years ago I went to the exact reverse of this game, when the Playoff Bound Jazz were playing the Bombed Out Felton Blazers in April. Tickets were cheap. My mom paid for them because at the time we were running a scam in which we would play match play coupons against each other on a baccarat table at a local casino. To get enough coupons to do it for the next month, I filled a duffel bag full of Rip City Magazines out of which we later cut the coupons. Hasheem Thabeet and Nolan Smith started that game, and the Blazers lost. After the game every player presented a jersey to a season ticket holder. I watched for a while, then walked into the courtside priority area. That bar back there is pretty dark. Then I took a bunch of free posters and put a rubber band around a tube of them. I spent the money I made scamming local casinos on an attempt to move to Olympia that didn’t work out but really taught me a lot about myself, and I still have that tube of free posters to this day. So yeah, Blazers-Jazz! What a matchup!

Here are ways I think the Blazers could lose:

1. Trey Burke pumps the Blazers’ sub-optimal S/R defense in a career game.

2. Uhh, Enes Kanter?

3. Andris Biedrins robs a bank and pays the Blazers to lose. (I would support any dive they take for money.)

4. Sixers-style shit-ass shooting night.

Even if the Blazers somehow lose,  will it conjure any feelings in your soul? I would watch any of those results and think “Eh, fluke.”

No one would blame you if you smoked a gigantic bowl of [CEREAL] and watched baseball. Felix is pitching and his work contains revelations that are only apparent when you spark up [FLAMMABLE CEREAL?]. Stay away from golf though, that is a shitty sport is is probably mad racist and DEFINITELY a colossal waste of tillable soil, water, fertilizer and space where children could be getting active outside. Imagine a golf course but every old person has died and now there are happy children running across the greens. God, I’m fucking tearing up just thinking about it. Hey, are you married? Try to get fresh with your significant other. Try drawing a winky-face with whipped cream on a pumpkin pie, they’ll get the message, that you want to make sweaty, grunting-ass love instead of watching this game that no one cares about.

TRAIL BLAZERS 100 – KINGS 99: BOYFRIEND

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Dorell Wright had 3, 4, and 2 tonight. One probably can’t recall the 4 rebounds. One of the assists was a between the legs dish on a fast break that was pretty hot stuff, but the other was totally forgettable. The three points were a game winning corner three he drilled after a lovely one-arm-slung jump pass on the baseline by Damian Lillard. (Dorell claims it was his first game winner since high school.) It came after DeMarcus Cousins hit two free throws to put the Kings up by two after Wes Matthews fouled him on a Kings fast break, created when Damian Lillard got his pocket picked by Ray “Gun” McCallum

THis was not an ideal game for the Blazers, at all. McCallum, a rookie guard who has a career 8.8 PER absolutely lit up Damian and the Blazers all night, 23 points on 15 shots, 8 assists, absolutely not one turnover, and three steals. Real American Hero DeMarcus Cousins also did damage to the tune of 30/12/2/3 steals. In four meetings with the Blazers this year, DeMarcus scored 130 points (34+34+32+30).

In the first and third quarters, the Blazers actively conceded long twos to Cousins and he cashed in, going 5/9 from the space above the top of the key. The strategy was a brazen concession to the Blazer’s problems protecting big men at the rim that backfired against Cousins tonight. I am absolutely for laxing your defense in long two territory, but the brazenness of allowing Cousins these shots tonight was a little unseemly. It’s not like he’s 2010 Blake Griffin — he has a clean stroke, makes about 40%. They’re so scared of big men rushing the rim that they give them an attractive open shot and hope they take it.

They have a little trouble guarding pick and roll guards and big men who cares, that probably won’t be a problem in the playoffs. Sorry, excuse me? They’ll probably play the who? Rockets? James who and Dwight what? Oh geez, that could be bad.

Pretty much everyone on the Blazers had their customary performance tonight: LaMarcus with a throwback 22 and 8 (not all throwbacks are ideal), Lopez with 13 and 9, Matthews with a good-but-not-breathtaking 19. Batum had 11 and 6 assists, but only one rebound in deference to the regression Gods after his sinfully abnormal rebounding March. One hates to be the cranksterman after a win, but the Kings are a crummy team playing without two starters on a road back-to-back; why isn’t everyone feasting on the Kings’ tired corpse and getting some cheap stats?

Lillard had 19 and 10 assists, but he had five turnovers and played that aforementioned shitty defense against McCallum. Lillard’s defense has improved on dribble drives this year, but if you set a pick on him he still just kind of runs into it and lets the guard go flying towards the helping big. That was a very pretty sling pass to Wright, though.

STRAY THOUGHTS:

-Three of McCallum’s points were on a double-covered fadeaway three at the buzzer that nearly killed my dog.

-Earl Watson was a +14 tonight. Trade Mo Williams and Damian–and shit, let’s dump Wes too, because Earl is the Blazers’ guard of the future. All intangibles! He increases their steal percentage! He is a handsome man!

-Reggie Evans had a busy night: sometimes in the third he attempted a foul line fadeaway shot that DID NOT go in the basket and was offensive to me and my two children and my dog, all of whom are named “Rufus.” He also got a turnover out of LaMarcus when he pulled the chair on him in the fourth.

-The Wes alley-oop play worked tonight. Does it work more than I perceive, it just looks so silly when it doesn’t work that I internalize that pain and think irrationally about the play?