On Raymond Felton’s Messy Stay in Portland

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In the future, the 2011-12 Portland Trail Blazers season will probably be remembered as one thing and one thing only: the Raymond Felton era. Felton has earned his spot in Blazers lore, and not in the way that either he or the team’s fans would have liked. Whether rightly or wrongly, Felton has become the accepted shorthand for everything that hasn’t gone as planned on this team. It’s his play that’s being credited with sinking the Blazers’ playoff hopes on the court, and his demeanor off it and various comments to the media are taking the blame for the locker-room implosion that saw one of the most long-standing and respected coaches in the league run out of town. Is it fair to blame Felton, acquired on draft day from the Nuggets for the rock-solid but aging Andre Miller, for the team’s first trip to the lottery in four years? Yes and no. He’s been the strongest negative force on the court for Portland this season, and it’s not particularly close. But putting the year’s disappointments solely on him, as many fans and analysts have done, is shortsighted and obscures some bigger, more pressing concerns going forward.

It’s easy to knock the Miller-Felton trade in hindsight, but as bad as Felton has been in his year as a Blazer—and he’s been terrible—I’d make the deal again tomorrow. Trading Miller was the right move for the franchise at the time. In June, when the trade was made, Brandon Roy was only two months removed from the now-legendary takeover of game 4 in the first-round series against Dallas. His sudden December retirement seems inevitable now, but nobody saw it coming that quickly last summer. In the minds of the front office and wide swaths of the Blazers faithful, there was still a chance that he’d be the franchise player he was becoming in 2009. The team was still being built in Roy’s image, and his sustained conflicts with Miller over the previous two seasons, as well as Miller’s advancing age, made it clear that he was not a long-term solution at point guard.

Felton wasn’t a slam-dunk to be that guy, either. But at 26, coming off a successful season split between the Knicks and Nuggets, and with one year left on his contract, there was almost no downside to giving him a one-year trial run. And when you look at Felton’s season as just that, an audition, the trade becomes much more defensible, even after having seen what we’ve seen from him this season. Sometimes a player gets a tryout and simply bombs. It’s better for the Blazers in the long term to learn now that Felton isn’t a permanent fit than after he hits the open market. Had he remained in Denver and played even passably in his contract year, he’d be a prime candidate to be handed a four-year, $50 million contract by Paul Allen in two months. That’s not happening now. The Blazers will now be able to wash their hands of Felton and start fresh next year with only one season lost.

On paper, there was every indication that Felton would be a good fit in Portland. He thrived in the pick-and-roll with Amar’e Stoudemire in New York last season prior to being traded. There was no reason to believe that chemistry wouldn’t also exist with LaMarcus Aldridge. The great Zach Lowe of SI.com had this to say following the trade:

Felton showed last season that he can be a pretty dynamic player, both in transition and on the pick-and-roll, when paired with an elite big man. He’ll get that in Aldridge. Felton might be even more willing than Miller to push the pace and weave in a faster style that meshes well with Gerald Wallace (Felton’s former teammate in Charlotte), Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews. Portland coach Nate McMillan loves to slow things down, but his roster has the kind of versatility that requires flexibility at the right moments. Felton can provide that, and the Blazers get to try him out as their point guard of the future without surrendering Batum or any other core assets.

And indeed, for the first two weeks of the season, it seemed as though the Blazers had found their guy. My PRS and Hardwood Paroxysm colleague Scott Leedy spoke to Felton and Aldridge after an early-season win over the Nuggets, their third straight to start the year. Each spoke glowingly of the other’s influence on the court, and in the early going, that rapport translated into wins. But as January bled into February, a rough patch for Felton snowballed into…well, into what his season is now. If we want to pinpoint precisely when things went off the rails for Felton, we can probably point to the Blazers’ January 16th victory over the Hornets, in which he had 2 points (on 1-for-8 shooting) and a whopping 8 turnovers. The win followed a three-game losing streak that took much of the shine off the Blazers’ 7-2 start. His play hadn’t been perfect before that, but he’d been mostly good enough, and his flaws could be easily overlooked because the team was winning. Once that stopped, it became harder to ignore the poor shooting, the lackluster defense, the turnovers, and the fact that he had clearly never bothered to get back in shape following the five-month lockout.

There are other perfectly reasonable scapegoats for the season. After a solid 2010-11 campaign, Wesley Matthews regressed considerably. His PER dropped by over a full point, from 15.5 to 14.3. The league average is 15. This means that Matthews went from a slightly above-average player to a slightly below-average one this season. He also saw a significant decline in True Shooting Percentage, from 58.2% to 54.3%. He also lost the ability to finish fast breaks—according to HoopData, Matthews’ field-goal percentage on shots at the rim in 2010-11 was 63.9%, and this season that number dropped to 49.7. Matthews is under contract for three more seasons, but scouts have deemed the four-year college player a finished product, so the best the Blazers can realistically hope for from him going forward is a return to last season’s production.

The other supposed impact player in Portland’s backcourt rotation, Jamal Crawford, also underperformed. The 2010 Sixth Man of the Year, signed to replace Roy’s scoring contributions and create instant offense off the bench, had his worst shooting season since his rookie year (38.4% from the field, including a career-worst 30.8% from three-point range), while posting the highest usage rate of his career. Add in minimal contributions from Armon Johnson (waived midseason to make room for Joel Przybilla), Elliot Williams (showing signs of promise before a dislocated shoulder ended his season), Nolan Smith (inconsistent on the rare occasions he did play, but in the Blazers’ defense, it’s not like Kenneth Faried was available when he was drafted), and Jonny Flynn (mostly garbage time until the last two weeks, when he was unspectacular), and the Blazers’ guard play as a whole can be pinpointed as the biggest reason the season turned out the way it did.

So why has Felton received the dubious distinction of the season’s all-purpose scapegoat? We can find the answer by re-reading virtually every interview he gave to any major media outlet this season. First, he was in shape and loving the up-tempo style. Then, his poor play was a result of his showing up overweight to training camp and don’t blame me, it’s the lockout’s fault. First, he was simply comparing McMillan unfavorably to Mike D’Antoni. Then, it was all the coach’s fault for not showing enough confidence in him. This brand of flakiness and lack of accountability gave too many Blazers fans flashbacks to the days of Bonzi Wells telling Sports Illustrated that fans don’t matter to players. Felton didn’t do himself any favors with his play, but it was his propensity for excusing said on-court performance with whatever explanation was convenient for him at the time that secured a future of spirited booing at the Rose Garden, no matter where he ends up.

In the minds of Blazers fans, the season that almost never happened is going to go down as the season where Raymond Felton happened. Ultimately, this was just one more reason why the Blazers were never as close to contending as fans and media thought. He came along at the worst possible time (the abrupt end of the Roy/Aldridge/Oden era), but accelerated the timeline to rebuild around Aldridge and Batum. Now that the experiment over, the team still has no GM, no permanent coach, a ton of cap space in the hands of an owner that none of us can trust spending it, half of a roster (if that), one elite player to build around, and still no elusive PGOTF. Felton is another guy who didn’t fit the bill. The journey to that answer to him was just especially entertaining, for all the wrong reasons.

Blazers 94, Jazz 96. Portland finishes the season 28-38.

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Play of the night.

Notes from the final game of the season:

Point guard play:

With quite literally nothing on the line, fans were finally treated to a solid showing from both Jonny Flynn and Nolan Smith. That’s not to say the pair hasn’t had good performances over the past couple of months, but the confidence they each displayed tonight was a bright spot. Even if Devin Harris only played 12 minutes.

Yes, Flynn continues to make poor decisions on the court, but he was able to connect for 11 assists and help get his teammates open looks. No, he doesn’t have what it takes to be the Blazers starting point guard next season. Unless he shows major growth in maturity over the next couple of years, he’ll be coming off the bench wherever he lands. He can still be a valuable contributor for Portland in the second unit. As he and his teammates become more familiar with each other’s games (and have more than 12 practice days in a season) he has the potential to be a solid distributor coming off of the bench.

His shooting percentage has declined since connecting on 41 percent of shots his rookie season—this season he only hit 33 percent. Admittedly a small sample size, his 25 percent shooting from 3 – 9 ft. this season was truly awful, but something he can absolutely work on in the off-season. Flynn took most of his shots at the rim this season, converting 50 percent. If he is able to add a reliable midrange game, it’s not terribly difficult to see him bringing much needed energy to the Blazer second unit. Add in the ability to score in bunches and distribute the ball without too many thoughtless passes, and Flynn is worth keeping around. His 18 points and 11 assists were both season-highs. This is exactly the taste he wanted to leave in the Blazer brass’ mouth heading into the summer.

Nolan Smith’s numbers were slightly less impressive than Flynn’s, but his game was equally encouraging: 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting and seven assists. Portland doesn’t appear to be in strict rebuilding mode, and for that reason it’s unlikely Smith moves to the starting lineup next season. While he has definitely had some poor showings the past few months, his leadership skills and poise have begun to emerge. Sure, keeping your cool in a game that has nothing at stake isn’t exactly the litmus test for future point guard potential, but it’s a start. Smith took the open shot when it was given to him and converted. He hit the open man and assisted on seven shots, making the game easier for his teammates. He defended the pick and roll perfectly when Harris was on the court. He did everything the Blazers needed him to do tonight, including becoming outraged when his teammate didn’t get a call at the end of the game.

Like Flynn, Smith has difficulty hitting from the 3 – 9 ft. range, but the starting point guard doesn’t necessarily need to be that guy. He converts when he makes it to the rim 53 percent of the time, and has shown improvement in his outside jumper. What’s most surprising about his shooting stats is he is markedly worse at the Rose Garden than on the road: 25 compared to 48 percent. Make what you will of that statistic, but keeping your cool on the road is an important skill in a starting point guard. Usually that comes after feeling good about playing at home, but it’s possible Smith has just matured early in that area.

Smith ended his season on a strong note, a bright spot when looking forward to the 2012-13 Trail Blazers.

The Three-Point Champ that wasn’t:

Maybe it’s better that Luke Babbitt didn’t qualify for the league-leader in three-point shot percentage with his horrid shooting night.

Just kidding, it’s totally not better that he was awful tonight.

Babbitt shot 1-for-8 from three-point range tonight, and 3-for-11 in 37 minutes. He had some nice finishes in the lane in the middle of the third quarter, but his impact on offense was otherwise unimpressive. Shooters are going to have poor nights, but when the sample size isn’t even a full season, it’s hard not to look at crumbling under pressure as just that.

Here’s to sincerely hoping Babbitt becomes more than just a Chalupa Man next year, and fills the role of a true offensive threat off of the bench for Portland.

Rude Awakening:

Hasheem the Dream played 0 minutes in tonight’s loss.

Kurt Thomas played 27 and scored 10 points.

There was absolutely no reason to not play a guy who is healthy, sitting on the bench, and waiting desperately for some burn. Unless that guy is really, truly awful.

We haven’t seen anything (well, there was the air ball hook shot) to suggest that Thabeet isn’t worthy of a single minute in the final game of the season, with nothing at stake. But my fear is that the coaching staff has.

The rest:

Craig Smith scored seven points in seven minutes. He quickly became a fan favorite in Portland, and it was nice to see him have a positive end to his season.

It doesn’t feel fair to pile on Wesley Matthews who struggled mightily from the floor, especially after the difficult season he’s had and the effort he’s shown. He remains a valuable piece for this Blazer team moving forward.

JJ Hickson’s play has caught the attention of plenty of other teams around the league. Tonight’s numbers: 20 points, nine rebounds, two blocks, and 10-for-13(!) shooting. He works hard, keeps his head in the game, and genuinely makes an effort to get better every time he is on the court. The Blazers should make him an offer as soon as they are able, and show him how valued he is by Portland. That’s not to say they should overpay for a solid role player, but Hickson has been a great addition to this franchise. It’d be a shame to lose him next season.

Lastly, congrats to Jamal Crawford for earning the free throw shooting title. On the season Jamal shot 92.7 percent, connecting on an incredible 191 of 206 free throw attempts.

*****

/drops the mic

 

PICK AND SCROLL: Monday April 23, 2012. The Elbow Heard ’round the World

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Your daily (Mon-Fri) roundup of links from around the blogosphere, typically Trail Blazers related.

Tonight is the Blazers (28-36) penultimate game of the season as they match up against the playoff-bound San Antonio Spurs (47-16).

But more importantly, it’s the first day of LAMWPTIE (Life after Metta World Peace Throwing Irrational Elbows). I missed the action live, so naturally I took to Twitter to get the utmost accurate and objective analysis of the situation. 

The general consensus seems to be that World Peace is, in fact, a murderer — or something like that. 

Please.

It’s astonishing World Peace hasn’t knocked David Stern, so why are we shocked when he “inadvertently” connects with an elbow to the back of Harden’s dome? 

He deserved to be tossed, and he deserves the imposing suspension headed his way. 

Most importantly, James Harden deserves an apology for his stellar late season rise being spoiled. 

Links:

Thoughts, ideas and challenges to 1-on-1 games, are happily accepted in the comments section.

Pick & Scroll: Thursday, April 19, 2012. Home finale floundering

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Your daily (Mon-Fri) roundup of links from around the blogosphere, typically Trail Blazers related.

 Pictured: Not Greg Oden

 

Thoughts, ideas and challenges to 1-on-1 games, are happily accepted in the comments section

The Final Home Game

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It wasn’t supposed to end like this.

The final home game, completely out of playoff contention. Rolling out a starting five of Wesley Matthews, Nolan Smith, Hasheem Thabeet, J.J. Hickson, and Nicolas Batum.

Two franchise cornerstones in Greg Oden and Brandon Roy gone, the third in LaMarcus Aldridge shut down for the rest of the year due to injury. The coach and GM both carrying “interim” tags.

Even in the most negative projections heading into the beginning of this year, nobody assumed Portland’s season would be this dismal. And yet here we are, the Blazers limping towards the end of their year, a broken team with a broken spirit.

When asked what went wrong this year, Nicolas Batum sounded defeated.

“This is the same question you ask every day now. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what happened. We had a great start, then we started to lose one and two games in a row and the confidence never came back.

“It’s been fast and quick the last two months,” he added. “We’ve been one of the best teams in the West to one of the worst teams in the West in two months. What happened? I don’t really see what happened. I don’t really know what happened.”

Batum said he spoke to Tony Parker who wished that this was the only year Nic would miss the playoffs, and judging by his postgame honesty and introspection, it was clear Batum felt the same. Time to get ready for next year, time to put this one behind.

The Utah Jazz won by twenty-one points tonight, and it was never even close. Custer’s Last Stand this wasn’t. Just a fitting final home game to an utterly lost season, and obviously a perfect time to honor the fans who didn’t abandon the team.

”It’s been great,” said J.J. Hickson of the fans. “They come out and show support, night in and night out, no matter what our record is and who we’re playing or how many guys we got injured. They’re definitely our sixth man. They definitely help us win games.”

Added Coach Kaleb Canales: “I’ll continue to say it. I believe it. We do have the best fans in the world. I know it has been a challenging season for us, but we appreciate what they give to us.”

”Even at the end,” said Batum, “we lost. We played a bad game. And we lost. But there are some guys still there giving an ovation at the end. They are the best in the NBA.”

There are more games, one final road trip, but for all intents and purposes the year is over. The Rose Garden faithful officially no longer have to suffer, despite being praised by the players and coach.

The final free chalupa has been handed out for the 2011-2012 season. And now we come to the end.

PICK AND SCROLL: Tuesday, April 17, 2012. Lottery bound.

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Your daily (Mon-Fri) roundup of links from around the blogosphere, typically Trail Blazers related.

 New Jersey Nets’ pick

After their loss to Miami last night, the Nets fell to 22-40, tying them for the sixth-worst record with Toronto. Because teams who finish with the same record add, then divide, their combinations, if the season ended today, the Nets and Raptors would each have 53 combinations. So the Nets’ odds of getting a top-three pick right now would be:

No. 1 pick: 5.3 percent

No. 2 pick: 6.0 percent

No. 3 pick: 7.3 percent

The best the Nets’ pick could be if the Blazers get it, if the season ended today, would be No. 6, and that would depend on Toronto not getting a No. 1-3 pick, and then New Jersey winning a coin flip with the Raptors.

Blazers Pick

The Blazers’ own pick: Monday’s loss dropped the Blazers to 28-34, the 11th-worst record in the league. That makes them long shots to land a top-three pick. If they remain at No. 11, the Blazers would have eight possible combination out of the 1,000. Their odds: 

No. 1 pick: 0.8 percent

No. 2 pick: 0.9 percent

No. 3 pick: 1.2 percent

If fortune does not go the Blazers’ way, their would have a 90.7 percent chance of getting the No. 11 pick.

Also, we should note that the odds on both picks will likely change several times before the end of the season.

Babbitt did not disappoint. Revealing aggressive play and where-has-this-been confidence from the opening jump to the final horn, Babbitt finished with 18 points and five rebounds in 39 minutes. He hit deep three-pointers, finished driving floaters in the lane and made five consecutive shots during one stretch. Babbitt made 7 of 17 field goals, including 4 of 9 three-pointers, establishing or tying career highs in points, field goals and three-pointers. 

  • The Portland Tribune doesn’t think coach Canales’ defensive focus is being taken seriously by the rest of the team. After watching Portland give up 125 points, I’d say the Tribune is on to something. 
  • Chris Haynes of csnnw.com says the Suns want Jamal Crawford if he doesn’t re-up with the Blazers. “We want Jamal back!” – Said nobody, ever. 
  • Eric Freeman of Yahoo! Sports blog Ball Don’t Lie finally joins the Hasheem Thabeet Twitter party. Better late than never, Freeman. 
  • Delonte West is still a punk, albeit a dry one. With that said, “Cheap shot in the biggest way,” might be an overexaggeration. Seriously, settle down Roots sports crew.
  • There are worse namesakes to have than Michael Jordan. Like anybody named Donald Sterling. I feel for you. 

Thoughts, ideas and challenges to 1-on-1 games, are happily accepted in the comments section. 

Rapid Reaction: Suns Eliminate Blazers from Playoffs

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We’re grading on a curve tonight. For an unscientific take on the game, keep reading.

Portland Trail Blazers 107 Final
Recap | Box Score
125 Phoenix Suns
J.J. Hickson, PF 37 MIN | 9-15 FG | 4-4 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 22 PTS | -23

Two rebounds short of another double-double and a solid 37 minutes for Portland tonight. Hickson goes hard to the basket every time he gets the ball in position. He hit a couple of nice jumpers which could be a great weapon if he’s able to develop that over the summer. His FG% from 6-9 ft. is a surprising 62% since he joined Portland, and he’s attempting the most (six per game) from that distance of his career.

Luke Babbitt, SF 39 MIN | 7-17 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 18 PTS | -11

Your favorite Chalupa peddler played 39 minutes and scored a career-high 18 points on 17 shots. After establishing his outside shot, he took the defender to the basket and was able to convert in the paint. Sure, Phoenix isn’t a big shot blocking team, but Luke showed confidence getting to the rim tonight which is promising.

Wesley Matthews, G 40 MIN | 8-17 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 19 PTS | -25

It tough to see Wesley playing huge minutes knowing he’s hurting, but without his effort on both ends of the floor this ugly game might have been unwatchable. Unless you like watching Luke Babbitt take 17 shots. I’m not judging.

Jonny Flynn, PG 24 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-2 FT | 2 REB | 6 AST | 4 PTS | -4

Even grading on a curve, even with a team-high in assists Flynn’s game was missing focus. His energy up and down the court are assets for the Blazers, but he could use some help channeling that activity into something more targeted.

Jamal Crawford, G 36 MIN | 7-16 FG | 8-10 FT | 5 REB | 4 AST | 22 PTS | -10

At least four of Crawford’s 10 free throws came off of being fouled outside of the paint. His ability to draw fouls on the perimeter isn’t talked about enough. He added a much needed four assists and five rebounds to his solid 22-point shooting performance.

Craig Smith, PF 8 MIN | 1-2 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 3 PTS | -2

Smith stood for every one of Babbitt’s threes while he was on the bench. That earns a B in this game.

Hasheem Thabeet, C 13 MIN | 1-1 FG | 3-4 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 5 PTS | 0

A nice block and a couple of trips to the free throw line were the highlights for Thabeet. He seems to have trouble finding his place on defense, and despite his size, opposing teams have no problem working around him. He doesn’t need to put up big points to be a good player in this league, but against an undersized Phoenix bench, Thabeet should have altered many more shots and plays than he did tonight.

Nolan Smith, G 33 MIN | 6-14 FG | 1-1 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 14 PTS | -7

It seems like whenever Smith isn’t looking over his shoulder at Flynn or Felton he is able to stay calm enough to have a positive impact on the game. Not worried about being pulled after a bad pass or missed shot, Nolan had one of his best showings of the year with a great overall effort.

Three Final Notes

  1. A messy game between a team trying out some young talent and a team trying to make it into the playoffs. In that way, both teams were successful.
  2. We heard Mike Barrett explain to Mike Rice why Luke Babbitt points his fingers to the sky when he hits a shot: “He’s pointing to God, Mike Rice.”
  3. Portland lost to Phoenix by 25, then beat the Suns by 38, and lost tonight by 18. That’s a 27-point margin of victory for the season series.

Pick and Scroll: Monday April 16, 2012

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Your daily (Mon-Fri) roundup of links from around the blogosphere, typically Trail Blazers related.

 

  • The Trail Blazers came up short in Sacramento against the Kings Sunday afternoon. The fellas over at Cowbell Kingdom have your recap of the close loss. 
  • Wesley Matthews’ game-high 31 points included eight 3-pointers, tying a franchise record of makes from behind the arc.
  • Joe Freeman delivers some news that many Blazer fans have been waiting since the trade deadline to hear:

The team finally has decided to feature young point guards Nolan Smith and Jonny Flynn moving forward. Interim general manager Chad Buchanan told Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford before the team left for Sacramento that each would sit out one game of the Blazers’ Sunday-Monday back-to-back — and perhaps even more over the final five games of the season.

  • Brendan Bowers of Slam Online has a Q&A with JJ Hickson. Asked if he would like to stick around in Portland:

Of course, I would love it. I’ve been getting some positive feedback from Coach, and from the organization as a whole, and I would love to re-sign here.

But if Babbitt had known that his shot would prompt the city’s top-rated sports radio show to open its broadcast the next day with a five-minute dissection of the Chalupa….“If I had known,” Babbitt said, “I would have missed the shot on purpose.”

  • The Blazers are in Phoenix tonight for the second half of their back-to-back. The Suns will be looking for a win tonight for a chance to improve their playoff hopes in the final stretch of the season. Valley of the Suns has your preview of tonight’s match up. 

Portland comes up short at home: Mavericks 97, Blazers 94

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Amid other exciting announcements by the NBA today–the Hornets are staying in New Orleans, the Maloofs remembered they don’t like Sacramento–it was decided that going forward, during the month of April, the Blazers and Mavericks will play 12 minute games, with the Mavericks leading by 20 at tip off.

League officials pointed to the past three seasons, where during ten April meetings (the most against any Portland opponent), the average margin of victory between the teams is just 5.3 points. Over the past three contests, Dallas has outscored Portland by just four points total. Strongly influenced by Brandon Roy’s heroic game on April 24 of last year, the double-overtime victory last week in Dallas, and tonight’s down-to-the-wire thriller, everyone agreed this 12-minute-game would be the “most fun option for all involved parties.” With the teams splitting the past 10 games, no objections were made on their behalves. 

In the interest of this new system, we’ll pick up coverage of tonight’s game with the Blazers down 61-81 entering the final period.

With about fifteen percent of the Rose Garden leaving shortly after the start of the fourth quarter, Blazers down by 20, Portland began chipping away at what had been a comfortable Dallas lead for the night. Though both teams were shorthanded (Portland without LaMarcus Aldridge and Dallas without Jason Kidd), the ending felt like an inevitable Dallas win against a floundering Portland team.

Only eight-seconds into the final period, Wesley Matthews scored two of his seven points in the quarter, off of a quick pass from Jamal Crawford in the lane. A minute later he assisted on a Luke Babbitt three-pointer to cut the lead down to 15 with 10:30 to go. Matthews would add two more crucial assists plus two steals in the period. JJ Hickson sparked a 7-0 run for Portland to bring Portland within nine points with over six minutes to play. Add in eight Dallas turnovers, and the final 12 minutes of play had just about everything you could want in a 12-minute basketball game: fast breaks, steals, scrappiness, defensive stops, and a couple of alley-oops for good measure.

Coach Canales focused on the last twelve minutes of play in his post-game conference: “there was no quit in us.” He continued: “I thought we came out during the first six minutes of the [fourth] quarter and responded even though [Dallas] had won the third quarter. To hold the defending champs to a 16-point fourth quarter shows a lot about us responding, and a lot about us giving a game-winning effort.”

The enthusiasm over the “game-winning effort” in the loss was mixed.

JJ Hickson (who finished with 13 points and 10 boards) appreciated Coach focusing on the positives.

Scoring a team-high 20 points, Nicolas Batum added after the game: “We came up short, but we didn’t give up and that’s something to take from this game.” He and Matthews went on to discuss the play where Batum inexplicably passed the ball out of bounds. More on that in the video below.

Matthews was clearly agitated that the effort didn’t translate to a win. The locker room didn’t feel filled with payers crushed that their playoff hopes were on life support. It certainly didn’t feel like the sting burned deeper that the loss came against the team who knocked them out of the playoffs entirely last year. Matthew’s sobering take on the events stood out. He has struggled this season to find his rhythm and the comfort he enjoyed on the court last year. His remarks tonight weren’t those of someone itching for the whole thing to just be over already, but someone who welcomes the agony if it comes with success.

For Wes, 12 minutes against the Mavs just wasn’t enough.

Final Notes:

  • Your obligatory Raymond Felton note is that his five turnovers included two crucial ones during the fourth quarter, with the game on the line. His offensive game (you could read that either way, really) was not terrible, but not his best this month.
  • Hasheem Thabeet played eight minutes and scored four points, adding a block to his stat line. I tweeted this, but whenever Thabeet does anything on the court the audio drop is We got the Beat.
  • Jamal Crawford’s much-needed offense came through with Portland missing LaMarcus Aldridge. His six-for-six made free throws bumped him up to 93.6% on the season, good for best in the league.
  • Five Blazers ended the night in double figures. All who logged minutes scored, except Nolan Smith.
  • Dallas finished with seven blocked shots, including three from Brandan Wright, whose has a 7’ 3.75” wingspan. Is that all?
  • After scoring 17 in the first half, Portland kept Dirk Nowitzki to just seven points in the third and fourth quarters.

PICK AND SCROLL: Thursday, April 12, 2012.

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Your daily (Mon-Fri) roundup of links from around the blogosphere, typically Trail Blazers related.

Bruce Ely / The Oregonian

Links:

  • Mock Talk: Chad Ford’s latest Mock Draft has the Blazers selecting point guard Damian Lillard out of Weber State at No. 7 (courtesy of the New Jersey Nets) and selecting Perry Jones III out of Baylor with the No. 11 pick. 
  • Yeah, the Blazers beat the Golden State Warriors 118-110, but so what? Did you see J.J. Hickson put in work (at least, offensively). Mike Tokito at the Oregonian did. 
  • Joe Freeman from the Oregonian looks at the good news along with the bad news from last night’s game. The good news, of course, being the offensive brilliance (who needs defense anyways, right coach?) displayed by the Blazers. The bad news being the “news” on LaMarcus Aldridge’s ailing hip. 

Aldridge visited Dr. Marc Philippon in Vail, Colo., on Tuesday in search of a third medical opinion, and the outcome was not good. Blazers interim general manager Chad Buchanan said a magnetic resonance imaging test revealed an “abnormality” in Aldridge’s hip, and he did not play against the Warriors. Officially, the team has labeled Aldridge’s status as day-to-day, but it seems more and more possible he played his last game of the season Monday night during the Blazers’ loss to the Houston Rockets. 

Thoughts, ideas and challenges to 1-on-1 games, are happily accepted in the comments section.