TRAIL BLAZERS 98 – THUNDER 94: OH WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNIN

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Welcome back to wonderland.

 

There are the great mysteries of the universe like how to artificially create an environment for nuclear fusion or how Taco Bell makes functional Doritos taco shells, and then there is this game. It was a bleak, miserable experience until it wasn’t. The finish was thrilling and magnificent in the way that’s almost getting redundant around these parts. I can remember a moment as late as the tail end of the third quarter when I looked at the score, saw the Blazers trailing by about 7 or 10, and genuinely wondered how they could possibly find a way to close it to a one possession game, let alone steal a win (and this game was a theft of the highest order). The way that Oklahoma City was playing and the way that Portland was playing, there simply did not appear to be any kind of avenue to victory. Then it happened and I still can’t really understand how. Sometime during the game, a tweet from Houston Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey scrolled through my timeline in which Morey stated his New Year’s wish for people to finally understand that a possession in the first half is as valuable as a possession in the second half. Morey is basically an accepted genius at this point and the sentiment of his wish corroborates just fine with the general laws of mathematics. But I still think that he might be wrong. I don’t want to be the creationist arguing against evolution (#neverthat) but the Blazers played three shitty-to-kinda-shitty quarters and one outstanding quarter. Yet somehow they won.

Nicolas Batum lived the full range of the human experience in his 38 minutes of run at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. He spent much of the game chasing the echo of the ghost of the shadow of Kevin Durant, as Durant scored 36 points through the first three quarters. Durant is brilliant and could probably hang 36 on somebody while locked in a barrel hurtling over Niagara Falls, but Nico deepened his frustration with an outright horrible night shooting the ball, finishing a barren 1-7 from beyond the three-point line. Remember that “1” though, we’ll get back to it. Like the rest of his team, something happened to Batum in the fourth quarter and I cannot explain it. I’m neither a shaman nor an astrophysicist. He looked hungry and motivated and focused and all the other stuff that coaches in movies like to implore their fictional players to be. He harassed Durant with newfound energy, bothering him and putting his body and soul into conflict, and Durant could muster only one point in the entirety of the fourth quarter.

To pick out one defensive play as a turning point for the win might be reaching too far, but it did feel like a symbol, or at the very least it was so awesome and potentially overlooked that I just want to share it with you anyway. Midway through the fourth quarter, after the Blazers had cut the lead to just three, Batum found himself out on the perimeter against Durant, as he had for most of the game. Not wanting to concede an inch because against Durant, inches become feet become, “Here’s 40 points, fly home safe,” Batum pressured Durant and managed to poke the ball away. Unfortunately, as Nico burst out to gather a steal and start the break the other way, the ball fell right back in the hands of the Thunder, now with Batum way out of position trying to get back into the play. Responding to the urgency of the now-wide open Durant, the man guarding Serge Ibaka in the left corner sprinted out towards Durant at the top of the wing. Batum, sensing the pass before it was passed, ignored trying to recover onto Durant and instead sprinted all the way from his position out by midcourt, behind all of the action, to get to the corner as the ball arrived in the hands of Ibaka for a three-pointer that was all of a sudden not wide open anymore. Ibaka, sensing that Batum might have closed out too hard, tried to put the ball on the floor but again, Batum recovered with perfect balance to deter a drive and force Ibaka to launch an ill-fated fadeaway 18-footer, which of course Batum again contested perfectly. Then a few plays later, Nico drilled a three-pointer from the left wing to put the Blazers up by two with just 3:24 on the clock and let the fine people of Oklahoma know what Normandy is all about. Calvados and dagger jumpers. Come visit.

Of course, the Blazers couldn’t just wrangle a lead in the final minutes and see out a win. Portland led by four with 48 seconds left when the Thunder’s Reggie Jackson managed to draw a shooting foul on Wes Matthews. Curiously, Jackson appeared to wave off an open Kevin Durant who looked to be shouting for the ball and reading his resume while holding a poster of Thunderstruck, before Jackson opted instead to attack the Portland defense on his own. Jackson would make one of two, before the Blazers’ ensuing possession managed to include a missed three-pointer from Matthews followed by an enormous offensive rebound by Damian Lillard, followed by a more enormous and puzzling blind-side steal from Thabo Sefolosha, followed by Lillard getting called for a foul trying to reach back for the now-loose ball, followed by Thabo Sefolosha making two free throws. Once again, hearts were evacuating via throats as the Blazers lead had been trimmed to just one. The Thunder then fouled Mo Williams, a normally good free throw shooter, but in his ongoing campaign to hook the city of Portland on Schedule I drugs, missed both free throws. Somehow though, the Eega Beeva himself, Robin Lopez, found his way to the offensive rebound as he always seems to do and tipped it back to Aldridge, who passed it quickly to Wes Matthews. Matthews hit his two free throws, and after Durant split one of two, caught a miraculous offensive rebound that caromed right back to him, and equally miraculously missed the 8-footer to tie to the game, Damian Lillard corralled the ball and hit more free throws to put the Blazers up four and seal the most unlikeliest of wins.

TRAIL BLAZERS @ THUNDER PREVIEW: MANY A NEW DAY

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The sun has risen. The Trail Blazers are 24-7 and that’s still pretty good. We’re all still here. Except for Russell Westbrook. He won’t be here. Or he might be here. But he won’t be here in a Oklahoma City Thunder uniform. He might be here wearing the faux pelt of some obscure hoofed mammal found only in certain secluded valleys of the Himalayas. The sort of thing that John Varvatos will use to upholster the cars of the future. Speaking of obscure mammals and future cars, Kevin Durant will most definitely be here. Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge will need to put their Captain Planet rings together and match the sorcery of Kevin Durant or else the sun will set on 2013 with a 3-game losing streak. Please god no.

PELICANS 110 – TRAIL BLAZERS 108: LATE FOR THE FUTURE

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i’m not crying you guys that’s just jrue holiday in there shimmying past my cornea and splitting my iris and raining jumpers from the deepest parts of my retina that then drop out of my tear duct and glide down my cheek like tears might do if they were tears but they’re not tears really they’re not tears before falling into my bowl of ramen noodles that isn’t even cooked and is just the dry chunk of ramen in a bowl of room temperature water without even the seasoning because seasoning isn’t really necessary it just makes the ramen taste like it might have encountered something resembling actual beef at some point in its existence but of course it hasn’t because ramen costs like fifty cents and the seasoning is just a comforting illusion for people who can’t even afford the slightly more real beef available on the mcdonald’s dollar menu and maybe the blazers’ great start this season is just an illusion like the fake beef seasoning and these back to back losses are what this metaphorical ramen really tastes like and while i really don’t believe that i would be lying if i said that there wasn’t a tiny place way back in my brain that might believe that and seriously i’m not crying you guys i swear.

the blazers could still win the championship i guess and two losses doesn’t mean that paul allen should burn the team for the insurance money or more accurately velvet jacket money and let earl watson go dissipate into the great fabric of the universe like the wise tortoise in kung fu panda or whatever but usually a championship team plays good defense and i don’t wanna put words in bill russell’s mouth or anything but if he was on the blazers i think he would probably look at the 68 points in the paint from new orleans and at least give an impassioned speech about the importance of defending the interior with a pointed reference to his own role in the admirable but ultimately doomed defense of babylon against the persians in the sixth-century bc and earl watson would be like word i don’t really remember that because i was just a kid.

should i talk about mo williams nah fuck that.

there were moments in this game that felt like they might be turning points or the kind of thing that turning points might drink when they want to get loose and ease their morals a little bit like when the blazers came out of halftime and climbed aboard lamarcus aldridge because lamarcus is a big guy with an all inclusive jump shot and the blazers sometimes need to rely on their centerpiece when the rest of the squad is doing awkward unsettling stuff and while lamarcus did help spur a little run to close the gap the pelicans came back with a run of their own which is actually pretty easy when dunks and layups are gift wrapped and presented with a heartfelt card personally signed from everyone in the rotation except for meyers leonard who heard a noise that sounded like his unicorn friend so he wandered off somewhere to go chill with his unicorn friend and compare beanie babies collections or whatever but anyway the ultimate positive moment for the blazers occurred with 10 seconds left in the game and the blazers down by 3 and damian lillard pulled up for a three-pointer with one foot somewhere out near midcourt and one foot in my dream state and the shot touched every last part of the rim before dropping because obviously it was gonna drop and i leapt off my couch shouting exclamations of joy and then before i could even write a caps-locked tweet about lillard telling oakland to stand up or scale tall buildings or summon the soul of jack london i watched as tyreke evans came down the court defended by a certain guard from jackson mississippi who’s game is a maddening duality and tyreke swagged out a little crossover and then pulled up for a midrange shot of his own and yeah i might be crying so what.

TRAIL BLAZERS @ PELICANS PREVIEW: I GOT ARMY GUNS

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In the locker room after the Trail Blazers’ (24-6) heartbreaking last second loss to the Miami Heat on Saturday, LaMarcus Aldridge was asked about Monday’s fixture against the Pelicans of New Orleans (13-15), a team that Portland had only beaten by three points (110-107) in the Moda Center a week prior. Aldridge replied simply, “Let’s kill them.” He did not elaborate.

HEAT 108 – TRAIL BLAZERS 107: SONG OF THE GOATS

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ACT I: AN AGE OF BEAUTY AND ENDLESS PROSPERITY

LeBron James was out. Julia Louis-Dreyfus was in. She sat one row back from the court, her aging star shining upon the many gathered in the Moda Center, on Twitter, and at countless other places across the Rip City multiverse.

Along with LeBron’s groin, the game may have lost any “NBA Finals Preview” grandiosity, but it nonetheless felt like a celebration of sorts. The reports of Heat fans arriving at the arena via bandwagon felt more comical than obnoxious. Michael Beasley, starting in the stead of The Bron, hit a couple early shots. It was that kind of a party. Chris Bosh scored 8 straight points to give the Heat a 19-12 lead, but his points carried with them no sense of later doom. The offense on display was simply too beautiful to think about later doom, or anything outside of the basketball journey to enlightenment.

LaMarcus Aldridge’s turnaround jumpers fell from that magical place where they always fall from. Wes Matthews hit three-pointers and attacked the lane and bullied lesser men in the post and used his available time in between to fill out All Star ballots with his own name in the write-in spot. The Agony and Ecstasy of Mo Williams played more like the ecstasy half and Damian Lillard chipped in, although he didn’t really need to, and Robin Lopez had a couple nice post ups, and Dorell Wright looked like a real live NBA player with a jump shot and emotions and everything. Even Meyers Leonard scored and looked less like a 7-foot kitten who wandered onto a court and more like a man who remembered the time he once saw tapestries depicting something that he would later understand theoretically as “basketball.”

‘Twas a golden age of flourishing offense. Defense, shmefense. The Blazers shot 72% from the field in the first quarter (the Heat shot 54% in that quarter) and went on to take a 62-58 lead into halftime. This was the kind of basketball that Terry Stotts smothers upon his frozen yogurt when he’s feeling especially indulgent. If only frozen yogurt could last forever.

 

ACT II: SLOW, SNAKING CRACKS

There were signs. They were subtle, but available to those who look for such things. A few careless turnovers. An open shot that didn’t fall. Rashard Lewis hits a three-pointer, then another. Mind you, this is Rashard Lewis we’re talking about. He hasn’t been consistently good since the last decade, plus his head is surprisingly small for his body, should you meet him in person. The Blazers respond with a flurry of scoring late in third quarter. Their lead extends to 7, then maintains at 5 for the first few minutes of the fourth quarter. But maybe it should have been more. Basketball is weird. The score at a given moment doesn’t always reflect the sense of watching the play on the court. A team appearing to play better than the score might as well be losing, and a team playing worse than the score might as well be gaining.

 

ACT III: MODA HEALTH DOES NOT COVER BIBLICAL PLAGUES

Destruction. Fire. Brimstone. Pestilence. Turnovers abound. Mo is possessed and not in a good way. I’m talking about demons. Meyers Leonard airballs a one-footed three-pointer because he miscalculated the last 5 seconds of the shot clock. Then he bizarrely swats a floater at the rim, goaltending, which is not allowed. No one can shoot, even LaMarcus. LaMarcus misses a turnaround jumper. LaMarcus misses a turnaround jumper! Damian Lillard can barely handle the ball long enough to initiate offense. Norris Cole harasses ballhandlers at midcourt. Norris Cole might be part hyena. Gonna need to see your birth certificate, Norris Cole, to make sure that your parents aren’t hyenas. I’ll recognize hyena names if I see them. Chris Bosh hits a corner three. Aldridge finally asserts his Aldridge-ness in Aldridge-land at Aldridge time. But maybe it’s too late. The Blazers are trailing with only a couple of minutes to play. Is it too late? Batum gets fouled shooting a three-pointer with 32 seconds left. He makes all three free throws. Blazers up by two. The Heat come out of a timeout and Dwyane Wade turns the corner on a high ball screen and Batum looks like he expects a switch that doesn’t come and Wade strides all the way to the rim for a simple right-handed dunk. Tie game, 26 seconds left. Terry Stotts calls timeout.

 

ACT IV: CHRIS BOSH SMOTHERS YOUR DREAMS IN TAPATIO

26 seconds of abbreviated basketball remain to decide if the story ends with the heroes overcoming adversity, or falling in tragedy. Out of the timeout, Lillard looks to play hero-ball. But without a screen, the hyena-man Norris Cole prevents Lillard from getting to his spots of comfort. Then the slop happens. The ball is spilt. Batum corrals the loose ball around the left baseline, rises to shoot a jumper, and gets the benefit of another foul call. Two free throws put the Blazers back up by two with 7 seconds to play. Former Jesuit Crusader and Portland Pilot, Erik Spoelstra, draws up a play. Again Wade is the ball handler and again he gets a screen at the top, from Chris Bosh. Again, Wade turns the corner, but this time Batum shadows him well. Aldridge, who was defending Bosh, crashes down towards the rim to make doubly sure that Wade will not have such an easy dunk. Wade realizes the double team, for at the critical moment, he whips the ball behind his back and out towards the now unguarded Bosh, still calmly positioned just beyond the three-point line at the top of the key. Lillard and Mo frantically sprint over to contest, but they are too little and they arrive too late. Bosh hits the three-pointer and the Heat take a one point lead with 5 tenths of a second left as Portland reaches into its liquor cabinet. On the final play of the game, an inbounds lob play finds Aldridge in great position at the basket, but he cannot orient himself and calculate the proper angle and release for the shot while fading in midair with his back to the rim. The buzzer sounds. 108-107 Miami. LeBron goes home happy. Chris Bosh goes home happier. LeBron’s groin goes home hurt. LaMarcus goes home mad, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus goes home sad, because she is a Blazer fan now.

HEAT @ TRAIL BLAZERS PREVIEW: A GROIN OF GROINS

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I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about LeBron James’s groin. I’ve been thinking about other things too – the influence of college football on humanity’s fight against hunger, the influence of my mom’s Christmas cookies on my fight against hunger, Goodfellas, Jubelale, Anne Heche’s filmography, etc. – but there, lurking ominously in the background of my thoughtscape is always LeBron’s mysterious groin. LeBron tweaked his right groin on Friday in the Miami Heat’s 108-103 loss to the Kings of Sacramento, so say the many fine journalists of the world. Some have called it a “strain.” Others have implied that his groin “strain” has been coupled with a re-aggravated “sprained” “ankle.” He is listed on the injury report as “questionable,” which is fitting, because I have many questions.

I believe that LeBron has a groin area and that said groin area probably boasts a seemingly usual assortment of biological tissue. I don’t want to get too graphic here, but he has children. I’ve seen them in Samsung commercials. But the nature of LeBron’s groin area can only seem as usual as LeBron’s humanity, which is to say it is not usual at all. LeBron is a 6’8’’, 260-pound chiseled container of basketball genius. He is Mozart’s mind in the body of a piano. He is Ferran Adriá’s vision animating all of the appliances and instruments of a kitchen at once. He is Eddie Murphy playing all of the parts in The Nutty Professor. Groins, and their imperfections, are for people like myself to strain when they excitedly hop out of their recliners because they thought they heard an ice cream truck drive by, or when they make ill-fated midnight bets with their younger brothers while home at Christmas that they could go touch the rim on the backyard hoop, right at that moment, barefoot, in sub-freezing temperatures, with a thin level of frost covering the court. LeBron’s groin has to be something different, made from the materials used on the space shuttle carefully tailored by Italian craftsmen and Engineered To The Exact Specifications Of Championship Athletes®. LeBron cannot have a strained groin as Zeus cannot have a strained rotator cuff from throwing too many lightning bolts. Unless of course, he sees mighty Titans awaiting his arrival for a Saturday night tilt at the Moda Center.

In the undercard of the Miami Heat injury report, both Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen sat out on Friday with the typical knee fatigue/soreness of old-timers. Only Wade really isn’t that old. When Wade was drafted in 2003, Ray Allen was already 5 years removed from rocking Denzel out of his Air Jordan XIII’s in He Got Game, 7 years into his NBA career, and only a few months removed from being traded from Milwaukee to Seattle for Gary Payton. It may be time for old man Dwyane to start eating vegetables, drinking green tea, bathing in kombucha, and doing whatever else he can do to improve his RealAge. Meanwhile, Christopher Claus Andersen, also known as “Birdman,” joined Wade and Allen in civilian wear, nursing a sore back. Additionally, Mario Chalmers is listed as probable with Instagram-related sadness, or as he said, “How come only ten thousand people liked my photo of this splendid lunch from Chef Tomas Membreno? There are cashews on that salad! Cashews bring such a surprising texture to a salad! People don’t understand the cashew! I am a cashew! [Sobbing]” Also probable is Chris Bosh, who was recently fed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with crunchy peanut butter and Bosh has a delicate esophagus. Bosh is expected to play, but will likely vent his pain by writing a mean-spirited Yelp review under an alias for the next place that he visits. Pity the independent bookstore soon to receive scathing, passive-aggressive remarks about their disappointing selection of young adult fiction.

BLAZER PROPAGANDA: A NIGHT OF GLORY FOR A MAN OF STRENGTH AND CONVICTION

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What is heroism?

 

Is it building a house for someone without one?

Feeding the poor?

Enacting social change in your community?

Or will mere inspiration suffice?

LaMarcus Nurae Aldridge, 28, a star forward on the Portland Trail Blazers Basketball Club, sat in a chair in the Beaverton office of Milton Davis, DDS. Milton spoke:

“Well, LaMarcus, your teeth look pretty good, all in all. No cavities, some early signs of gingivitis, but nothing a good flossing here and there won’t fix…”

“Well, Doc, it’s hard to remember…”

“Yeah, and I know that. Maybe try a note on your mirror?”

“Yeah I could do that.”

“Oh, and another thing. Your Wisdom teeth are ingrown, and we’re going to have to extract them. An outpatient surgery.”

“But, Doc, I can’t get surgery, my team needs me. The people of Portland need me. A weary nation (The United States), bereft of hope and mired in a world of chaos, people who have turned to the Portland Trail Blazers, a surprise contender in the west, in their time of collective moral and emotional turmoil, needs me! I can’t get surgery.”

“Look, LaMarcus.” The warm, kindly Doctor Davis grabbed the silky giant’s finely crafted shoulder. “If you don’t get this surgery, your backmost molars will become ingrown and destroy the alignment of the rest of your teeth.”

“…be straight with me, Doc. Could it kill me? Could I be cut down by wisdom teeth?”

“Well, it’s hard to say. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But when you are sixty or so, yes. It could. Modern dentistry is the main reason people are living longer.”

LaMarcus’s life was at stake. There was no choice. The surgery was set for December 23rd, four days before the Blazer’s important game against the whole NBA’s hated rival, Blake “The Dunking Coward” Griffin and his Los Angeles Clippers. The procedure went by nearly without a hitch, except for a scary moment when Aldridge felt brief discomfort during the drilling on his top right wisdom tooth. Thankfully, Doctor Davis had more anesthetic on hand to deal with the problem.

LaMarcus, the Blazers’ kindly and strong jump shooting giant, was felled for the next few days. He lied on his couch and ate soup made from the boiled bones of chickens. But his focus never wavered. The Clippers were on his mind the whole time, especially his matchup with Blake “The Baron Dunker of the NBA” Griffin, the symbol of capital hated by a nation of decent, modest basketball fans. “Give us 18 footers,” they cry. “The excesses of dunking dismantle the morals of a generation.”

The day of the game. Aldridge, who has been on his bed, his muscles atrophied by the agony of inactivity, his mouth sore with the incisions of the surgeon’s scalpel, gets in his 1997 Honda Odyssey, which he purchased his rookie year from a local used car dealership, and drives to the Rose Garden. He could sit out this game, mitigate the risk of reopening his stitches and incurring a life threatening — if left 100% untreated — case of dry socket.

But he is no Blake “Dunksman McScammer” Griffin, who will absolutely never play through pain or discomfort or even the pretense of hard work. LaMarcus shows up to work, in his hard hat and Blazer uniform, his red toolbox filled with pick-and-pop jumpers and baseline turnaround fadeaways, and he will give the United States of America, their eyes fastened to their televisions during this TNT matchup, what they crave: 31 Points, 10 Rebounds, 4 assists and a victory for the righteous Portland Trail Blazers, the team of working class people the world over.

“They told me I couldn’t do it.” Said Aldridge to gathered sporting, medical, and political media after the game. “But I’m not here to take no for an answer. I’m here to take one,” he took a sip of soup from a paper cup, “For the team. For the fans. For the motherland.”

HAIL BLAZERS, GIVERS OF BASKETBALL LIVELINESS

TRAIL BLAZERS 116 – CLIPPERS 112 (OT): THERE ARE HEROISMS ALL AROUND US

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The Clippers maybe should have won, and against another team, they probably would have won. Blake Griffin looked like the realization of his potential. He scored 35 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and displayed a wonderfully diverse offensive repertoire that blended Z-Bo-ian work on the block to create space for soft finishes with an adequate jump shot, even hitting a corner three. Allow me to clarify, Blake Griffin sank an important corner three midway through the fourth quarter without the slightest hesitation. Elsewhere, or often the samewhere, DeAndre Jordan had 19 rebounds, Jamal Crawford had 21 points, and Chris Paul dominated the game. Paul scored 34 points, tallied 16 assists, and hit numerous big shots late in the fourth quarter, ranging from well open midrange pull-ups (the sort that the Trail Blazers have willingly conceded all season) to a ridiculously tough baseline fallaway over Wes Matthews to put the Clippers up three with 9 seconds to go in regulation. But none of that would be enough to win, because Portland has ascended somewhere this season – where exactly remains unknown because they have yet to hit the ceiling. Yet must be up there somewhere in Sir-Arthur-Conan-Doyle-blowing-trees-on-a-hot-air-balloon-and-waxing-about-mystical-plateaus-with-pterodactyls (both waxing to the pterodactyls about the plateaus and also describing mystical places in which pterodactyls live) territory, because even without grazing their ceiling, the Blazers still managed to earn an overtime victory against a Clippers team that came into the year expecting to challenge for the Western Conference Championship, if not the NBA Championship.

When Chris Paul hit that shot to put the Clippers up three with 9 seconds remaining, I didn’t feel particularly confident, if I’m being honest. Even though Damian Lillard, the usual last-shot dude, has been in full rampage mode over the last week or so, he struggled against Paul on Thursday (finishing with 14 points on 4-12 shooting from the field). Terry Stotts clearly felt the same way because the play there, out of a timeout, was to inbound the ball to Nicolas Batum on the left wing (who had made at least a couple enormous plays in those final minutes of regulation), let him curl around two screens towards the top of the key, and gain just enough space to get a clear look at a three-pointer, which he knocked down to tie the game with seconds remaining (now would be the appropriate time to go into your backyard and blow your “BATUUUUUUUUUM!!!” horn). Somehow, Chris Paul managed to get a pretty wide open look at another elbow jumper at the buzzer, but it clanged thankfully off the iron and the game went to overtime, the Blazers’ first overtime at home in the Moda Center.

In the overtime period, the teams continued to trade buckets and LaMarcus Aldridge, who had his wisdom teeth removed on Sunday, began to play like dry socket. As the dental surgeons say, if you get the allegedly excruciatingly painful and thus horribly feared dry socket, you’ll know. Similarly, opponents of the Trail Blazers fearing a LaMarcus Aldridge onslaught need not spend time wondering if it’s happening or not. When it does, they’ll know, and there’s nothing they can do about it. Sure enough, the Blazers sought out their early MVP candidate (I can say that now and I don’t seem crazy!) plenty in the added time, and Aldridge rewarded them by scoring the Blazers’ first 5 points of overtime and 7 of his team-high 32 points in the last period. The turnaround jumper over Griffin with 39 seconds remaining gave the Blazers their final lead of the game, iced by a perfect 6 straight free throws from Lillard, Batum, and Matthews.

 

Lastly in the ongoing #MeyersLeonardWatch, Terry Stotts played Leonard 13 minutes, mostly at power forward it seemed, alongside Robin Lopez. Leonard continued to be an irreconcilable disaster aesthetically, falling down and stumbling around and appearing to display the court awareness of an inebriated Roomba. However, he was also surprisingly effective, pulling down 7 rebounds and moving the ball well on offense. He might actually be some kind of bizarre savant that looks horrific to the viewer, but stunningly mediocre on paper. He even scored two points on a driving tear-drop from just inside the free throw line. The tear belonged to Thomas Robinson.

CLIPPERS @ TRAIL BLAZERS PREVIEW: THE REVOLUTION INTRODUCED ME TO ART

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A month or so ago, the Trail Blazers’ (23-5) back-to-back home wins against the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder were supposed to have been the “For Real” forever stamp on the Blazers’ elite status this season. But starting with tonight’s home game against the mighty Clippers of Los Angeles (20-10), Portland once again enters another crucible of “realness,” highlighted by Saturday’s tilt against the Miami Heat before culminating with a 2013 send-off on New Year’s Eve against the same Thunder of Where The Wind Goes Sweeping Down the Plain. And once again, even if the Blazers navigate this gauntlet with all of the serene power of a LaMarcus Aldridge turnaround jumper, don’t expect the rest of the league and the suited ruling class to cease their interrogation of the Blazers, step down from their pearly television studios, and present Terry Stotts and His Immortals with a lovely card and accompanying picture of the Larry O’Brien trophy because the real trophy won’t be ready until June. The de facto rulers might be able to claim a title in December, but for Portland, the revolution won’t be over until all of the aristocrats have been stripped of their riches and Damian Lillard has ransacked the palace and is kicking his feet up on a prostrate LeBron James and shouting at Ernie Johnson to bring him another iced tea, “And don’t forget the fucking lemon.”

 

Welcome to Portland, Clippers. May your stay here be short and unpleasant.

The Clippers lost by a score of 105-103 last night in Oakland, thanks to the late awakening of Stephen Curry, and some genuinely mysterious officiating from Danny Crawford & Co. that led to Blake Griffin’s second-half ejection (as well as an ejection for the Warriors’ Draymond Green, and a flagrant and technical for Andrew Bogut). Because everyone watching on television could see that Bogut was being a goon to the goonth power, there has been no talk of suspension and Griffin will suit up (hopefully in those powder blue t-shirt jerseys) for the Clippers tonight, as well as have the proper rest to fully appreciate the beauty of the Aldridge jumpers that will surely soar overhead.

The other match-up that TNT will likely shove down your drama-knowing throats is the Chris Paul vs. Damian Lillard battle of point god supremacy. While Paul has been busy selling discount auto insurance, sneakers, and apparently his son Little Chris’s #brand, Lillard has been quietly (or not-so-quietly) collecting the souls of mid-table point guards to flip for mad bitcoin loot on the Darknet. Their match-up could also become particularly contentious, given how Chris Paul is often overlooked for being kind of a dick, while Damian Lillard is often overlooked for being kind of a wolf. The last time the two met was in the preseason, and Lillard came out of halftime on a mission to make Paul feel his own mortality, scoring 12 points on the Clippers in the third quarter of that game. But that was the preseason and now is the regular season, the time for Lillard to harvest that mortality.

 

Before I finish, I have a couple confessions to get off my chest. In light of Meyers Leonard’s curious rise into the rotation (I understand that lineups featuring Thomas Robinson have been largely ineffective on either end by most advanced measures, but at least T-Rob’s energetic aggression was entertaining to watch, whereas Leonard is…umm…well…), I should mention that there was a time not that long ago when I contended that Leonard’s size and athleticism could make him an explosive frontcourt player along the lines of Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. Of course – and this is confession number two – I also once favorably compared Leonard’s history as a guard/wing before a late growth spurt, combined with his nice shooting mechanics, to that of another late-growing former wing with shooting touch, one Anthony Davis.

TRAIL BLAZERS 110 – PELICANS 107: THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

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Now the birth of Damian the Messiah was on the wise: When as his team the Portland Trail Blazers was betrothed to LaMarcus, it was also found with child of Oakland.

Then LaMarcus his teammate, being a just man, and not willing to make a division within the team, was allegedly minded to leave town privily.

But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of Terry Stotts appeared unto him in a dream, saying, LaMarcus, thou product of Texas, fear not to take unto thee Portland thy long-term home: for that which is conceived in her is of Oakland, and the Holy Ghost.

And it shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Damian: for he shall save his people from their losses.

Then LaMarcus being raised from sleep did as the angel of Terry Stotts had bidden him, and took unto him his team:

And knew it not till it had brought forth its son: and he called his name Damian.

 

Now when Damian was born in Portland of Oregon in the days of LeBron the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Portland,

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Trail Blazers? for we have seen his star in the east, in Detroit and Cleveland, and are come to worship him.

When LeBron the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all the Association with him.

And when he had gathered all the chief priests and coaches and scouts and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where the Messiah should be born.

And they said unto him, In the Moda Center on the East Bank of the Willamette: for thus it is written by the prophet Bill Schonely,

And thou Portland, in the land of Oregon, art not the least among the markets of the Association: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Rip City.

Then LeBron, when he had privily called the Pelicans, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

And he sent them to Portland, and said, Go and search diligently for the young guard; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

When they had heard the king, the Pelicans went to Portland and began to play; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young point guard was.

And they saw him score 8 straight points before halftime and end the third quarter with an acrobatic finish to an inbounds lob play and score 13 points in the fourth quarter capped by a three-point shot taken from all the way in Bethlehem with 1:27 on the clock to give the Trail Blazers their final lead.

When they saw the glory of the star, they felt deep sadness and great despair.

And the wise men rejoiced with exceeding joy.

And when they were come into the locker room, they saw the young guard with the Trail Blazers his team, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh and Western Conference Player of the Week and many tweets with #NBABallot tags.

And being warned in a dream that they should not return to LeBron, they departed into their own country another way.