What a difference the east coast can make. More specifically, perhaps it’s the Atlantic Division—or just anywhere but the Northwest, which Raptors broadcasters tonight called “the toughest in the the league.”
For the second game in as many nights, the Blazers continued rounding themselves into better shape after a dismal streak of four losses in five games at the Rose Garden. Portland’s 101-87 defeat of Toronto, who were without leading scorer and rebounder Chris Bosh, improved the Blazers record to an astounding 11 and three on the second night of back-to-backs.
And while a win is a win in the tight playoff chase—especially on the road—a disturbing trend continued: the Blazers again allowed an opponent back in the game after taking a healthy lead. It happened last night in New Jersey, it happened last Sunday in Portland, and it happened in Wednesday in Toronto.
With 3:43 to play in the first half the Blazers led 51-34 before the Raptors closed on a 13-2 run. The home team cut the lead down to three as reserves Jerryd Bayless and Rudy Fernandez—both of whom have been slumping of late—were inserted. The Raptors scored again, before Bayless and Fernandez turned the game back in Portland’s favor. The duo led the Blazers on a 9-0 run, securing a comfortable lead once and for all.
Putting away games is something we wouldn’t be talking about had the Blazers not coughed up a 25 point lead to the Jazz. Had that magnificent three quarters been followed by even a fair fourth, the Blazers would have loads of momentum right now. Instead, these last two games were needed just to peel their lifeless corpses off the cold ground. It takes some time for a team to regain it’s dignity.
Along with Bayless (11 points) and Fernandez (17), Dante Cunningham (7) was productive off the bench. Together the trio scored a combined 35 points. They were the only members of the Blazers second unit to score.
Martell Webster was almost totally invisible once again. He finished with zero points and two rebounds in a scant eight minutes. Being demoted from the starting lineup in favor of Nicolas Batum may be taking its toll on the emotional Webster, but for the mercurial wing, it’s too early yet to say.
Conversely, it’s worth nothing that Fernandez came through to make a tangible contribution after news of his discontent broke today. The Spaniard even showed resolve on the defensive end in grabbing seven boards, which tied a season-high. But one game is not enough—Rudy needs to continue to put up or shut up.
Despite back-to-back road wins, it’s tough to know exactly where to place this Blazers team. On one hand, Wednesday’s win was a balanced, total team effort. Andre Miller had a double-double with 18 points and 10 assists while Brandon Roy showed that he may indeed be able to play through the hamstring injury effectively. Roy added 20, five and five. Moreover, the Blazers held the Raptors to their second-lowest point total of the season. The defeat was just Toronto’s second in their last 11 games.
On the other hand, the Raptors were without Bosh, the franchise’s only slugger (at least for now). The hole inside should’ve enabled LaMarcus Aldrdige to run wild. Instead he grabbed a pitiful two rebounds and scored just nine points, breaking a streak of 22-straight games with 15 or more. And while Brandon Roy has looked more like his old self in these last two games, he done it against lame individual defenders.
So no, the Blazers have not yet shaken off their recent woes. But they’re getting closer. They have some momentum, and no excuse not to go at least four and one on this five game trip. The most difficult game is their last, against Memphis. It comes Monday. And if the Blazers take the Grizzlies, who’ve had their number of late, there will be no more reason to worry.