It was supposed to be a statement game. A game against a terrible team, a game to right the ship, a game to cure whatever recent ailments the Blazers have had.
Yeah, plans change.
With LaMarcus Aldridge going down in the very opening minutes of the game to an ankle injury—later confirmed as a left ankle sprain that has him listed as day to day—the Blazers were forced to play without their lynchpin, without their catalyst. Without the beginning, middle, and end of their offensive foundation.
No wonder the Wizards jumped out to an early lead and played from in front for most of the game. Portland was absolutely rudderless.
“We were thinking about it too much, because he was our go to guy,” said Nicolas Batum, the only player to show any sort of spark in the contest. Tonight was supposed to be his triumphant return to the starting lineup, and while he did match his career high in points, the outcome left him disgusted with his defense. “It may be a good game on offense, but on defense we let their guards score eighty-two points. Nick Young got seven for eight. So I didn’t do a good job tonight.”
LaMarcus or no, the Blazers played dazed and flat footed, letting a ridiculously awful Wizards team dictate the pace and game flow. Washington was able to do whatever they wanted in transition, getting into the lane with ease. Penetration led to kick outs, which led to open shots around the perimeter.
John Wall and Jordan Crawford were unstoppable. JaVale McGee looked like a pick and roll maestro. Oh, and did I mention that Nick Young went 7-8 from deep, notching thirty-five total points? Because he did. That happened.
This is the same hapless Wizards team that, when faced with a Jamal Crawford on JaVale McGee mismatch in the low post at one point during the second quarter, opted instead to shoot a contested twenty footer. It went in.
Confidence was the most overused word of the night. Everyone kept talking about the pitfalls of giving the Wizards confidence—once those jumpers started falling, the rim opened up. Washington ended up shooting sixty percent, well above their season average of forty-two.
“There’s no defense,” said Nate McMillan after the game. He kept preaching that their pride was gone, and that the players had to stop looking for someone to bail them out consistently. As he said, “LaMarcus wasn’t going to walk back out of that locker room.”
This was supposed to be a win. A team relying heavily on Luke Babbitt could beat the Wizards. Nate McMillan, Buck Williams, and Bernie Bickerstaff could lace up and beat the Wizards. Brandon Roy and Greg Oden’s knees could beat the Wizards. And yet.
As Gerald Wallace said, every time Portland takes a step forward, they take two steps back. His was the most sobering take on the evening, calling it a slap in the face. “We haven’t figured out how to win close games yet. We haven’t figured out what we need to do on the road, and now the road problems are starting to come home.”
Watch that whole video. Wallace sums everything up pretty perfectly.
Looking at the next few games on the docket—both LA teams, the Hawks, the Spurs, and the Warriors in Oakland—it is conceivable that, without LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland could lose all five. Even with Aldridge those are all tough contests. This is a team delicately close to .500, delicately close to finding themselves in the lottery once again. In this shortened season with the tight playoff race in the West, anything is possible. These terrible losses are bound to have repercussions sooner or later.
It’s time to figure it out. And with Aldridge on the shelf indefinitely, the last thing Portland has right now is time.