TRAIL BLAZERS 105 – GRIZZLIES 98: COLD IS THE OCEAN’S SPRAY

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VIKINGS

It’s the 9th Century. The ol’ Julian calendar on the wall says that it’s summer, but there’s still a chill outside. There’s always a chill outside – it’s the 9th Century and the signage reads “Canterbury” or something and the sheep haven’t quite been as forthcoming with that good wool lately. Times are tough. So just to get a break from the depressing monotony of counting parsnips or whatever in your tiny dirt hut, you grab your cloak, mumble something to the family about “going to the store,” and head out for a walk to clear your head. Right as you’re sitting on a bluff overlooking the North Sea, gazing out into the emptiness and reflecting on all the dreams you compromised for a family and steady life in a dirt hut counting parsnips or whatever, you see it, a small fleet of ships approaching from the horizon. Each has the one sail, the oars sticking out the sides, the shields, the dragon on the bow, the whole nine. Soon, the ships land on the beach below and everyone that unloads looks enormous, made from volcanic rock, and ready for war, like they’ve been crafted for war. You’ve heard the grim stories about the terror wrought by these “Northmen,” but who knows where they’re really from. Maybe Hell. Maybe Graceland. Suddenly, all you want is to count those parsnips or whatever forever, but you know that your destruction is assured.

Now, imagine it’s 2014 and those same “Northmen” are landing on these shores. They’re still big, igneous, fearsome, with the axes and swords and shields and intimidating hairstyles and all that. But it’s 2014, and you don’t need to fight them on their terms. You have modern weapons like Mo Williams, who seems to have recently embraced his role as scorer and become more assertive looking for his shot in the pick-and-roll. You have the newly repaired LaMarcus Aldridge, whose post game looks to have returned, if his turnaround fadeaway is still finding its way. You have Damian Lillard of Oakland, California. They just have axes and swords and shields. Even if the combat becomes hand-to-hand and punishing, you have more evolved tools of brutality like the The Yung Energy God Thomas Robinson, Ol’ Ironsides Wes Matthews, and the Octopus Wizard Robin Lopez. Or, if you’re feeling peaceful, just allow Nicolas Batum and Will Barton to pacify these incoming warriors with the beauty and transcendence of art.

BLAZERS @ GRIZZLIES PREVIEW: STACYE

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That was a fun two-game win streak, full of ball movement and good wins over subpar teams. But the fun may end tonight with the Memphis Grizzlies in town to play the Trail Blazers (47-27). Their two previous meetings this season were 98-81 and 109-99 Grizzlies victories. The Blazers were stifled by the Memphis defense in both of those games, shooting 35% and 40% from the field. They also allowed the Grizzlies balanced and efficient scoring in both encounters.

The Grizzlies are 43-29, good for eighth place in the Western Conference. They’ve scored 106 points per hundred possessions, the 16th best mark in the NBA and allowed 104.2 points per hundred possessions, the 6th best rating in the league. BUT, these numbers do not truly communicate the proficiency of the team on account of a prolonged injury to their starting center and best player Marc Gasol. Their poor injury luck has put them in an uncomfortable race with Phoenix and Dallas at the bottom of the West for a playoff spot. I suspect they will be victorious in this endeavor, since their true talent level is so much better than their current record.

Under Lionel Hollins and new coach Dave Joeger, the Grizzlies have had the unfortunate habit of giving up leads late because of a counterproductive strategy of working to kill clock at the end of a game. NBA offenses work best when they initiate early and find a good shot. But the Grizzlies always start playing against the clock a little too early in their lead, allowing the opposing defense to set and get a good contest on their attempt. On Friday, this strategy and timely threes from from Steph Curry killed them late in their game against the Golden State Warriors. Watch out for this if the game is close near the end.

The best Memphis Grizzlies play: Conley and Gasol run a high pick and roll. The other team packs the paint when Gasol receives the ball. Gasol then passes to a spotted up shooter, perhaps Mike Miller or profoundly-Grizzliesesque-scrap-heap-discovery James Johnson in the corner, and they hit the three. That was a lie: the best Memphis Grizzlies play is when Z-Bo knocks the guy who he is posting up on over, then he calls for the ball and makes a layup. The third best Grizzlies plays is when Tony Allen gets the ball above the three point lines, drives into the paint, is met with some resistance, dribbles out and hands off to Conley, having blown 10-15 seconds of clock for no reason. If you ever get the chance to see the Grizzlies in person, do it, because Tony Allen is, like, really fucking amazing to watch. He never ever stops moving and he yells and claps all the time and occasionally you think he is an alien. Look for all of of these wonderful plays to understand how America’s beautiful game is played.

James Johnson is a wing who has only played 845 minute for the Grizzlies, but he is leading the team in dunks with 39. This is both because: A. He dunks a lot and B. No one else on the Grizzlies dunks, ever. Marc Gasol has 17 dunks. Zach Randolph has 5. Mike Conley has 1. The Grizzlies do an amazing job denying pleasure to anyone who is watching them on a non-fan basis. They are the dankest, dirtiest, deep cut in the NBA. If you like them, you’re either a defense and big man enthusiast (hey.), or a person from Memphis who likes violence. For three years, they started a shooting guard who couldn’t shoot! I hope, somehow, they best the Pacers in the Finals and end the NBA as a sport that average Americans care about altogether.

The Blazers haven’t made one single half-court heave this year. Should we be concerned? Mo Williams is leading the team in heave attempts at 4. Someone else needs to step up and step into a heave, if you ask me.

 

TRAIL BLAZERS 91 – BULLS 74: IT WON’T LAST FOREVER

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EAT PRAY LOVE

WE BACK OUT HERE!

[Actually first, to observe a moment of silence for Thomas Robinson’s fallen Tamagotchi—

 

 

 

 

 

Sleep well, sweet blob, may you find endless slices of pixel cake in the eternal ocean of time.]

OK NOW THAT WE PAID DUE RESPECTS AND SPILT SOME KOMBUCHA HOMEBREW AND AIRBRUSHED SOME T-SHIRTS IN YUNG TAMAGOTCHI ROBINSON’S DEAR MEMORY WE REALLY BACK OUT HERE!!!!!!!!!

Chicago is for lovers. Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls tried to get into their “Grindin’” routine, but Pusha T Stotts was like, “You know what I keep in my lining,” and in addition to a mesmerizing multi-green pocket square folded with a florist’s vision and a swordmaker’s precision, Terry’s lining also consisted of a rejuvenated offense and a bench with more on it than bird fecal matter and a sleeping Earl Watson.

I once read about a time that jazz drummer Max Roach won a drum battle with simply a hi-hat, that he found all of the unknown musicality of the hi-hat, more than his opponent could find in a full drum set. Maybe that’s a parable, or maybe it’s late and I’m reaching for obscure jazz drummer stories that I read in a drum magazine back when I had a roommate who was so inclined, to quantify the beautiful ideal that the Blazers offense can every-once-in-a-McDonald’s-breakfast-outing attain. I don’t know; it is late, after all.

But man, when the Blazers offense rises to the level shown on this night, and the ball swings around the halfcourt like they’ve been raised together since birth and spoon-fed on the Ajax method, I just want to open up the top of my head and pour it on my brain like Tapatio on hash browns. The spice of life! Mo Williams scored 18 points! 5 other players had double-digit scoring totals! As a team they shot 10-22 from 3-point range! I didn’t even care that LaMarcus only managed 5 points on 2-10 shooting. It felt like the Blazers found themselves. Eat, pray, love.

One win over a squad led by Jeff Teague that gives ample minutes to Elton Brand aside, it’s been darker than the hidden pockets on Sebastian Telfair’s carry-on around here. I know the flight attendants warned of some late-season regression turbulence, but when the Blazer Trailplane went into a nosedive, unfulfilled lives flashed before eyes that had seen far too much disappointment, vomit bags overflowed with the horrid manifestations of all those fears thought to be put into oil drums and filled with concrete and buried Captain Nemo deep beyond recovery, and I’m pretty sure I heard someone near the back scream, “I ALWAYS LOVED YOU AND I MISS YOUR BEAUTIFUL SMILE IN MY LIFE, JARED JEFFRIES!” Poor Bill Schonely locked himself in the bathroom, tampered the shit out of the smoke detector, and sadly went to work on a pack of Parliament Menthols. The Blazers had been run by the Bobcats and the Magic, so fuck your airplane rules. We were gonna die.

The fear of heights is at its worst when the ground is close enough to feel real.

But we didn’t die. We stared down death (DO NOT DOUBT THE VALIDITY OF THIS STATEMENT – I HAVE SPENT NIGHTS WONDERING IF MEYERS LEONARD MIGHT ACTUALLY BE A MATCHUP PROBLEM FOR DWIGHT HOWARD IN A PLAYOFF SERIES SO SIT DOWN AND LET ME TELL YOU WHAT DEATH LOOKS LIKE IN THE NUDE, 50 CENT). Its icy winds cut right through our “hey everybody we’re just happy to be here” cloaks and exposed us for the shivering, weak-minded, terror-gripped fatalists that we are. But hey! We might have lost our innocence and our blind faith in destiny, but at least we survived! God is dead, but we’re not.

TRAIL BLAZERS @ BULLS PREVIEW: DOG AND PONY SHOW

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Tonight, in Chicago, Illinois, the city of Broad People, the Portland Trail Blazers (Record) will play…

Wait, sorry. Pardon me. The Chicago Bulls do not “play” basketball. The Chicago Bulls war basketball. The Chicago Bulls live in a bunker under the stadium, where they clean their guns and obsess over their upcoming deaths. Two of their brothers have already fallen: Derrick “The Rose” Rose — their machine gunner guard — and Luol “Steady Freddy” Deng, a brave comrade who was in no way overrated by anyone why isn’t Cleveland better since he arrived don’t even ask that question Luol Deng was a hero why aren’t you supporting the troops.

In the absence of their leaders, who definitely deserved their MVP awards and All-Star appearances, the command of the Bulls has been taken up by Joakim Noah. Joakim is the greatest center to have ever lived, and possibly the only noble human being who has ever picked up a basketball. He has a ponytail he put together with the hair of his fallen enemies, enemies he befell in battles that were so grind-y and violent. Oh my God, all the blood. Joakim Noah is definitely better than Dwight Howard, I hate Dwight Howard because of all his nonsense like farting and smiling. Dwight Howard doesn’t go out there and fight in wars, he plays basketball like a chump. God, what a chump.

The Bulls’ general is Tom Thibodeau. He owns two books: the NBA rulebook and George Sherman’s autobiography. He is a basketball golem who lives on a diet of hardwood and Starbury brand shoes. He pushes his teams to the limit and beyond, into space where they suffocate in pursuit of ultimate victory. No one ever plays too many minutes, that hasn’t happened. Wilt averaged more than 48 minutes in a game once, and those were real wars. The only guy who went to war more than Wilt was Michael Jordan, who killed people with his bare hands and would have DOMINATED complex hybrid zone defenses because handchecking was legal in the 90s.

The Bulls only score 101.7 points per hundred possessions, 28th in the league, but every one of those points is the most important point of all time. They hold opponents to 100.4 points per hundred possessions, the second best mark in the league, way better than the top ranked Pacers because the Pacers have won less recently, and definitely better than everyone ahead of them, especially teams that play in the West and don’t get to play a bunch of games against the Sixers and Bucks. Suggesting that the Grizzlies might actually have a better defense than the Bulls because their numbers are skewed on account of Gasol’s midseason injury and their Western Conference schedule is silly. Stop it.

If the Bulls win a playoff series, it won’t be because of their sadass conference, it will be because they were warriors and not like the Warriors, because those guys are soft three point shooters, but like war warriors, the kind that murder people with hatchets. That Warriors’ “3rd ranked” defense is also worse than the Bulls’ defense, for sure.

The last time the Bulls and Blazers played was back on November 22nd. The Blazers won, 98-95. Wes Matthews scored 28 points. The Blazers are playing their 4th game in 5 nights, a “hardship” to some, sure, but what Tom Thibodeau would call a mild and delicious sauce to be used generously on Starbury shoes.

TRAIL BLAZERS 100, HAWKS 85: DON’T CRY

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Hey, the Blazers didn’t lose! We’re all a little surprised, let’s take in in. Good win, too, won by 15 points to a team that was actually trying, on the road. Bundle up in the tuberculosis resort, take in a deep breath, let the thin air cleanse your lungs, feel the consumption of recent sillybeans losses relieved.

LaMarcus Aldridge played for the first time since his fall from Baynes Mountain, and he was terrific! 25 points on 21 shots, 16 mighty rebounds, a heads-up steal in the first quarter. And he was lookin’ pretty spry out there! one might even venture to say he was looking rested and relaxed after his stint in the hospital bed. Aldridge’s presence in the lineup also seemed to grease the Blazers’ ball movement. 24 assists tonight after 17, 18, and 17 in the previous three games. Good to see the Blazers of late 2013 again, whippin’ the old pumpkin around in a circle.

The Hawks played the Blazers pretty even in the second half. The Blazers had “trouble putting the Hawks away” in the beginning of the fourth. I put this in quotes because it occurred to me on my MAX ride last night that, well, there IS another team on the other side of the ball and they have incentive to try to win the game. Maybe instead of grousing about arbitrary points when we feel like a team we’re pulling for is or isn’t supposed to take control or whatever, we should recognize that Lou Williams, who scored 13 in the fourth, wants to win too! It was a pleasure to watch Sweet Lou turn in a good game, he’s been looking a little sorry since coming back from his ACL injury this year.

Mo Williams played well!? 11 assists!? Oh my god! The whole bench did pretty good tonight, mostly a product of the kooky/younger players the depleted-ass Hawks are running out right now. Thomas Robinson even hit a long two pointer! This game might have been too good to be true.

Something dawned on me while watching this game: the Hawks and the Knicks, battling for the crown of dog crap that is 8th place in the Eastern Conference, are the purest bad teams in the league. Neither squad has any real incentive to lose, they put out good faith lineups and everyone in the organization is giving an honest effort, but they’re just too depleted (Hawks) or dominated by madness (Knicks). They are losing purely by the weakness of their talent and their coach’s best efforts. The 76ers, a team on an active and prolonged yearlong tank, instituted a fast pace so that their high volume replacement level players (Evan Turner, Hawes) would put up good counting stats and be tradeable for picks at the deadline. They have signed a bunch of players who, at best, could be described as “experimental.” “Could this guy be an NBA player? Who knows?! Let’s play him against NBA players and find out!”

Wes got a frustration tech in the third, when the Blazers got called for like a billion fouls in the first few minutes. C’mon Wes! Quit bein’ such an angry dude! Chill out! And, hey, Blazers: stop foulin’ guys! The extra space LaMarcus provided helped Lillard to have a nice, efficient game — 21 points on 15 shots. Sometimes you wish he would exorcise those three point one legged bombs out of his arsenal, but it’s so much fun when they go in! That long buzzer-bomber at the end of the third was pretty terrific. Pero Antic, a super scary three-jacking Euro who plays with the Hawks was a DNP-CD. It’s good that he wasn’t around to scare Portland’s children, who don’t need to sit in their beds tonight as the rain falls on their window and fear for the Pero, creepin’ into their rooms and eating all their hair so he can maintain his stretch-5 powers.

 

TRAIL BLAZERS @ HAWKS PREVIEW: LIBERATION

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The last time the Portland Trail Blazers (45-27) and the Atlanta Hawks met, the Blazers whooped them, 102-78. This has absolutely no bearing on tonight’s game, which the Blazers will lose. “But Corbin,” you say, your eyes welling up with tears from my truth gas, “Th-th-th-th-the Blazers are better than the Hawks.” So what? The Blazers were better than the Bobcats, they were Better than the Magic, and they lost those games. “But Corbin, the Hawks are 31-38, scoring 106.1 points per hundred possessions, 15th in the league and allowing 10 points per hundred possessions, the 17th in the league. The team started out well, but after an injury to star Center/Forward Al Horford they have sort of fallen apart and fallen to the eighth seed, only in the playoff hunt by the grace of God(awful Eastern conference). Surely, The Blazers will beat them?”

No. The Blazers will not win one single game for the rest of the year, or next year. They’re done. Let it go. No playoffs. It’s over. “But LaMarcus has been upgraded to ‘questionable’! Surely he will show up on a white steed and save the Blazers!” No. There are no heroes. LaMarcus has been dead for three weeks, don’t you understand? Even when he was “Playing” that was just a sack of potatoes brought to life with the Devil’s own majik. But the magik’s run out. NO MORE WINS AT ALL.

I don’t know HOW the Blazers will lose. Perhaps Damian will run face first into a series of neverending Paul Millsap/Pero Antic picks and Robin won’t be able to recover and Jeff Teague will score 35 points. Maybe the Blazers will go 2/25 from three. Hey, maybe they’ll be ahead with one minute to go it and lose on accident!

I let go this morning, when I was separating and potting a massive Shasta Daisy in the Master Gardener’s greenhouse in which I volunteer. This Shasta Daisy was much like the Trail Blazers. A humble beginning, low expectations a good plant, purchased at the Master Gardener’s Mother’s Day sale. The man who bought it planted it in the ground and it spread like fire. Two years later, he called the local dig team and they came to his house and retrieved five shopping bags full of Shasta Daisy from this guy’s landscaping. Then it was placed in front of me and I had to break it apart and replant the pieces in in commercial potting soil so we could sell it at the Mother’s Day sale.

This plant’s life had, in my very hands, become absurd. It was in that moment that I let go of everything. At first, it was painful. But then I thought about the pain I felt when I watched the Blazers give up all those points to Tobias Harris — the anger and the fear.

Now I recognize that the Blazers, once the picture of efficiency growing like that Shasta Daisy, have become a slog and will need to be broken apart in the offseason, the players repotted for other teams, so they can buy new plants that will grow and become cumbersome and be dug up and sold again. The cycle goes on forever. It contains its own beauty.

Join me on the ride. The Blazers will lose. Abandon the feelings of frustration and embrace the feeling of the Earth’s rotation. You live on the ball, it’s flying towards the rim, a two-point shot by Mo Williams after pick-and-roll in which he missed every other possible option. Your home is rebounded. The cycle continues.

Also the Hawks are in a playoff race with the Knicks, and the Knicks are straight cursed. The spirits are against us.

 

TRAIL BLAZERS 85, MAGIC 95: DON’T LOSE TOUCH

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“Not a good loss, Jessica!” Said T. Rail Blazers as he walked into his palatial Portland home after a hard day of work.

“Oh, honey, tell me what happened.”

Rail headed to the fridge. He reached in and grabbed a beer. “I can’t imagine you would want to hear it, sweetie. It was hard and boring.”

Rail opened the beer and sat on top of a yoga ball his doctor made him use because of the bad back he got from falling on top of Jeff Ayres.

“It’s not going to get better if you don’t talk about it.” Jessica has become tired of Rail’s sad sack stories after work, but relationships are give and take, and it was important to get him to share his feelings. Even on supposedly good nights, like when he beat Mill Bucks, there was a torrent of complaints about the minutiae of the games. Things weren’t going well.

“Well, Jess–” Rail searched through his head, tried to piece together what had happened. “Okay, we shot pretty poorly from three.”

“Honey, that’s not all your fault. Shooting threes is a high variable strategy and it doesn’t always work. Remember the game against the Sixers?”

Rail gritted his teeth. Of course he remembered. He hated thinking about the Sixers game. “That’s true but this was different. We really weren’t getting good looks tonight. Maybe if LaMarcus wasn’t injured we could… God, I can’t think like that, it’s Orr Magic! His bosses aren’t even trying right now!”

Rail reached for his head to try to push a headache away. He took a mighty pull of his beer.

“You know, Rail,” said Jessica, knowing she was broaching a sensitive subject, “Maybe if you covered pick and rolls–”

Rail’s head shot up. “Covered them what, Jessica? With saran wrap? With paint?”

Jessica wasn’t going to put up with Rail’s bullshit. “I mean, just better. Maybe if you did a better job covering the roll man, Nikola Vucevic wouldn’t score 15 points in the first half and 22 overall.”

“Why are you even watching my games?”

“That’s rude, Rail. I watch the games because I like basketball and I’m interested in what you’re doing.”

“You just want to criticize me!”

“No, Rail. I want to see you do better. What is Tobias Harris, the guy on the Orlando Magic who sort of hilariously wears the number ‘12’ jersey after Dwight left, doing getting 25 and 11?! Is the defense that bad?”

“Hey, we closed out some pretty close games with tough defense!”

“LUCK closed out those games. Anyway, why were they close, Rail?!” Jessica had raised her voice. “They were close because of your BULLCRAP defense.”

“Whatever, that wasn’t why we lost tonight anyway.” Rail was retreating emotionally.

“You’re right, you PROBABLY actually lost because you decided to smear Crisco all over your hands before the game. Fifteen turnovers, a bunch of them live ball crosscourt interceptions? After two games that you could have won already slipped through your fingers? Do you even want to make the playoffs, Rail? We don’t live on the eastside of town, you can’t just mail in anemic garbage like that! Out here on the west side, there might be a 50-win team that doesn’t get accepted into the country club this spring, and you’re losing to a team two days after they were eliminated from contention? Why did Lillard keep missing at the rim, RAIL?!”

Rail stand up and throws his beer across the room. “HE WAS TIRED, IT WAS A BACK TO BACK, DAMNIT! YOU THINK I DON’T WANT TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS,JESSICA?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITHOUT ALDRIDGE?! OR FREELAND, FOR THAT MATTER! I’VE HAD TO GIVE HIS MINUTES TO ALL KINDS OF KOOKY PLAYERS — YOU THINK THAT FEELS GOOD?!”

Jessica crossed her arms. “Rail, I know you are frustrated, and maybe I’ve been a little mean, but you absolutely don’t get to talk to me like that or throw things in this house. Go pick up the beer can.”

Rail walked to the other side of the house, retrieved the can, threw it in the garbage and collapsed on the couch. “I’m sorry, honey. That’s no way to act to the person you love.”

“No, it’s not.” Jessica feels bad for Rail. “But it wasn’t all bad, Will Barton had 7, 9, and 4, and a +3 net rating in 15 minutes! Pretty cool alley-oop from Batum in the second!

“It took 8 shots to get to 7 points, though.”

“Well, that’s not the worst thing.”

“God, I can’t believe the Magic shot 43% from the field. That’s the second worst offense in the league!”

“Well, you guys kinda left them open.”

“And what was with that obvious goaltend on Barton? I mean, we lost by 10, it wouldn’t have made a difference, but that seemed so obvious!”

“I know how angry you get about goaltending, after the Durant thing”

“Ugh. I don’t even wanna think about the Durant thing right now. Let’s go to Olive Garden, I need some breadsticks.

“Sorry Mo got straight crossed up by Olidipo.”

“Heh. He did. Actually, that was pretty funny.”

“You know I wasn’t gonna say, but it really was.”

The two of them laughed, picked up their coats, and headed out for a night of horrible pasta from hell. (NO FREE ADS)

“Man, what was with the empty seats in Orlando? Haven’t they heard of Groupon?”

BLAZERS @ MAGIC PREVIEW: WE LAUGH AT DANGER

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The Orlando Magic, the team that the Portland Trail Blazers (45-26) are playing tonight, are 998-993 all time. If I were a member of the Orlando local media, perhaps a Hot Takes delivery man for the local paper, I would obsess over this. It would become my goal for the team, even if it clearly isn’t the team’s, to maintain the franchises’ above five hundred record. “The Bucks, the Wizards, the Timberwolves, all of these sad sack teams, you know what they have in common? They’re all LOSERS. And sports aren’t about losing. Other things are about losing, I’m sure, but they’re not worth our time. I have a nephew, he’s into this punk music, that seems like it’s about losing. But there’s nothing ‘Cool’ about a losing sports team. And if the Magic slip under that number, well, that’s where they’ll be. In Loserville.” Imagine the hatred you could stir up around this arbitrary number. People reinvest in the season, media members ask about the all time record and those poor players have to act like it’s a priority.

The Magic probably will slip underneath that .500 threshold before the end of the year, though. They’re currently 19-52, scoring 101.4 points per 100 possessions, 29th in the NBA, and allowing 107.1 points per 100 possessions, the 18th best mark in the NBA. They were eliminated from playoff contention after Sunday’s loss to the Lakers. They’re fielding a pretty anemic team filled with young-future-or-currently-useful-role-players (Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris), NBA late-career detritus (Maxiell, our ol’ pal Ronnie Price, and Jameerkat) and one useful and in his prime player in Aaron Afflalo. Afflalo is leading the Magic in scoring at 19.2 PPG on .463/.437/.819 shooting, which is pretty good! The Magic probably could have traded him for some 2nd picks and some tank juice at the deadline, but he’s under contract for two more years, so he could be useful when they try to win, and it’s not like they’re playing anyone, so they kept him around.

The Magic and Blazers met back on January 8th, a 110-94 Blazer win in Portland. LaMarcus had 36 points and Batum had a triple-double. The Magic don’t have the resources to deal with even a depleted Blazer team, if Lamarcus Aldridge still out with a back contusion, and it seems like he will be. I also said that about the Bobcats, but the Magic are a good deal worse (9 game losing streak) than the Bobcats and might play a bunch of kooky-young guy lineups now that they’ve been eliminated from contention. Then again, maybe one of these young fringe-y players (Andrew Nicholson, I’m looking at you!) has a night to remember and just sends a Back-to-back Blazer team a-packing. That would be hard to watch. The universe is full of chaos!

I can say, 100% for certain, that Chris Bosh will not turn in some amazing game winning play for the Magic, because he plays for the Heat, but he will turn in game winning plays in my nightmares forever. I just try to remind myself, everyday, that the Blazers won a bunch of luck games early in the season, and the probability Gods came for everyone except the 2012 Baltimore Orioles.

Which member of the current Magic roster most resembles a practitioner of Magik? Unfortunately, Glen “Big Baby” Davis is no longer on the roster, because I think he is an obvious candidate. Pretty fleet of foot for a larger gentleman, prone to outbursts in motels like doomsaying Wizards of the medieval times, gentle eyes like a wizard. Certainly not Nikola Vucevic, who resembles a dead eyed golem of some kind, more a product of magic than a practitioner. Definitely not Jameer Nelson. Solomon Jones certainly has the name, though it’s more of a Vegas magician name than a practitioner of the dark arts name. In conclusion, Ronnie Price, because he probably sacrificed an animal to continue being in the NBA.

 

HEAT 93 – TRAIL BLAZERS 91: SUFFERING FROM SUCCESS

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The Blazers lost. Again. And it was pretty sad. Again. Oh man was it SAD. Before the game, I didn’t expect it to be sad, or really sad at all. I thought the Blazers would lose, sure. They were playing the back-to-back NBA champions on the road, after losing their last game to the Bobcats, who are not the back-to-back champions of anything, by 30 points. But the expectation of loss was supposed to protect me, and all of us, from the feelings of loneliness and emptiness and powerlessness that result from defeat. We were supposed to have a blanket of realism to keep our emotions lukewarm and the tender parts of our souls shielded from the elements, and I guess we did for a while. Then the Blazers and LeBron James and Chris Bosh ripped that blanket off us like our mom waking us up early for school and we were left there clinging to our last pillow of rationalization as our emotions wore only a pair of tattered basketball shorts and shivered in the cold morning air.

The first quarter was the good time, which is rare for the Blazers. Normally, the Blazers start with some Robin Lopez post-ups, opt against the defensive aspect of the game out of kindness, then force up three-pointers once they find themselves down by a score of something like 23-9. But not tonight! No way, Jose! The Blazers came right out passing the ball quickly and aggressively – that’s an important distinction, by the way: passing the ball around the perimeter with aggression and purpose rather than with fear or resigned necessity. Anyway, Damian Lillard played well. He dunked a couple times. One was an alley-oop finish on a lob from Nicolas Batum. The other was a driving two-handed dunk in which he navigated around Ray Allen in mid-air like one of those acrobatic airplanes sponsored by a particular bovine-named European energy drink company. Both were quite impressive. He would finish with 19 points and 6 assists.

Nicolas Batum also played very well. He pulled down some more rebounds and hit some shots and it seemed like he would be giving LeBron James everything his crown could handle.

Unfortunately, that didn’t quite work out. The game started to open up in the second quarter thanks to a lot of Blazer turnovers and LeBron started getting up and down like a formula one semi-truck driven by that clown from Twisted Metal and really it was very scary. LeBron would finish with 32 points and 6 rebounds and 5 assists and 4 steals.

The third quarter was pretty much the same. Turnovers. LeBron. Blazers down by 11 points going to the 4th. The Blazers would fall behind by as many as 17 points early in the final period BUT IT WAS OK WE STILL HAD OUR BLANKET OF EMOTIONAL INVINCIBILITY.

But then, things started happening. Thomas Robinson was discovering fire. Mo Williams discovered the good within himself. All of a sudden it was back to 10 and at least the Blazers would make the margin of defeat a respectable margin even though they would most certainly still lose.

With a few minutes left, Terry Stotts switched to an aggressive 2-3 zone and wouldn’t it you know it but the Miami Heat looked like Kansas on Sunday trying to solve a crossword puzzle written in another language. Wes Matthews for three. Damian Lillard for some free throws. WES MATTHEWS FOR ANOTHER THREE and somehow this is a 5 point game. AND THEN NICOLAS BATUM HITS AN OFF BALANCE THREE THAT NEARLY GAVE ME A SEIZURE AS THAT BLANKET WAS TORN OFF MY EMOTIONS AND SET ON FIRE AND I DIDN’T EVEN CARE CUZ THE BLAZERS WERE GONNA BEAT THE CHAMPS IN THE DUMBEST WAY EVER, A 2-3 ZONE. Two Mo Williams free throws made it a tie game. Bless the zone.

With 30 seconds left and the game newly square, the Heat called timeout and I imagine Miami coach Erik Spoelstra just used that time to draw caricatures of his players with big heads and little bodies on the white board and then right as the timeout was up, he laughed and was like, “Yeah just throw it to our giant one-of-a-kind aircraft, the Spruce Goose AKA LeBron James, and let him spruce their goose.” LeBron attacked the rim and finished over Robin Lopez to give the Heat a two-point lead with 11 seconds left. But no matter, the Blazers were gonna win because there were greater forces at work and my belief in that outcome was full and without doubt.

Terry Stotts opted against calling timeout, presumably because he didn’t want to give Miami time to prepare a defense. Lillard and Matthews sort of fought each other for a pass at the top of the key. Lillard ended up claiming the ball, then drove left past his man towards the rim and then right as he rose for a lefty finish at the near death of regulation to send the game to overtime, Chris Bosh, noted hater of Blazer dreams, blocked the shot and the game ended. The Heat won. Basketball is an unfair world devoid of any higher forces. There is only LeBron James and who he chooses to empower.

TRAIL BLAZERS @ HEAT PREVIEW: AWW, CRUMBS

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Corbin gets off the BoltBus in Portland after a fun weekend with friends in Seattle, marred only by the fact that he was in Seattle. The world is bright and beautiful. Optimism reigns. Wait, he thinks. Wasn’t there a Blazer game on Saturday, when he was getting a delicious Halal meal with his friends? Against the Charlotte Bobcats, he believes? Probably a solid victory, at least that’s what he thought when writing the preview. He open his desktop and types “Blazers” into the search bar. “L 94-124.”

This was not what he expected. Even without Aldridge, the Blazers should have at least given the sub-.500 Bobcats a good run. Corbin looks into it more. He sees that Kemba Walker had himself a day, that’s not good. Gerald Henderson with 23, that’s pretty bad. Man, the Bobcats and their 23rd or whatever ranked offense ran wild on the ol’ Trail Blazers. Meyers got dunked on? “Oh man,” he thinks, “Better watch the hell out of that.” He does and has a hearty laugh at Meyers’ expense.

That’s not good, Corbin thinks. A loss isn’t all that bad, but there’s no good in a rib kicking from the Bobcats. They beat the Blazers by the same margin the Blazers beat them by back in January, holy golly. But it’s just one loss, Corbin tells himself. And they’re on an east coast road trip, he’s sure there will now be some sad sack to bea…

Oh. Miami Heat. Defending champions, the patrons of the league’s finest player, master craftsman LeBron James, and his varied cohorts, including but not limited to Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, the scoundrel Ray Allen and the Birdman. The last time the Blazers and Heat played, the LeBron-less Heat won 108-107 on a buzzer-beating three courtesy of Chris Bosh. The Heat are 45-23, good for second place in the Eastern Conference, scoring 115 pointers per 100 possessions, 3rd highest total in the NBA, and allowing 106.2 points per hundred possessions, the 13th lowest defensive rating in the NBA.

All three of these totals and rankings are lower than they were last year when the Heat were an ice-breathing tokusatsu monster who never lost. There are two schools of thought on this fact. The first is that the Heat are coasting and waiting for the playoff to really uncork. This is supported by the number of games where they’ve rested Dwyane Wade and his meniscus-less knees, and eye-test-y “lazy games” here and there. The second theory is that they are actually worse this year, evidenced by slips in 3-point percentage from key role playing wings Shane Battier and Ray Allen, the absence of the amnestied-but-useful Mike Miller and a less proactive defense. It’s probably a little of both.

Lately, the Heat have been brothers with the Blazers (and Miami’s rival, the Pacers) in slumping. The Heat have gone 6-7 in March, including losses to Boston and New Orleans and a whooping from the Spurs. They’re going to come out motivated or they’re deflated and ready to get picked off in their moment of weakness, pick whichever narrative makes more sense to you personally.

LaMarcus Aldridge will continue to be out with “Sore ass syndrome.” This is particularly a problem against the Heat, who lack matchup options against big power forwards and and are vulnerable to high volume rebounders. Dorell Wright will take his place in the starting lineup. Dwyane Wade is out under the pretense of an ankle injury. Greg Oden will get the start in his place.