The Blazers are at a point in the season where the definition of success has become so slippery, Tweeters everywhere aren’t sure how to feel after a solid home win.
The team–who just lost a coach plus two veteran starters one week ago–remains absolutely good enough to win close games against good teams. The team simultaneously is not good enough to beat one of the top four teams in the West in a seven-game series.
This leaves players and fans in a difficult conundrum: To Tank, or Not To Tank?
Reasons for tanking pretty much follow the “lottery picks are our future” school of thought, while giving solace to desperate fans trying to cope with a 29-point home loss against the Bucks.
Reasons against tanking can be summed up thusly: It’s no fun at all.
So what should be made of tonight’s game?
Portland took the court with a low bar set, after losing by a combined 45 points over the last two games. Plus, Miss Oregon (who delivered the National Anthem), botched the second verse in what was possibly more embarrassing fashion than the Blazers’ fast-break game as of late.
The goal for Coach Canales was clear: “We’re not looking back at anything, we’re looking forward.” It was also clear he was talking about the season as opposed to the longer term goals for the organization. Canales is 100% focused on winning games to close out the season. He repeatedly stressed the strong defensive effort the Blazers, most notably Nicolas Batum, displayed against the Grizzlies tonight. The mention of “defense” to “offense” in his post-game interview was something close to 4:1. The guy who was demonstrative on the sidelines (quipping that the refs “don’t know who [he is]”) for 48 minutes was subdued and focused after his first home win. The focus for Canales is certainly not on next season, but on each possession: “We’ve always believed, and we’re not going to stop believing. We’re staying in the moment.”
Staying in the moment is exactly how Portland pulled out a win when everything started to unravel in the second half. The Blazers went into the half with a 49-44 lead, and found themselves trailing 57-64 with 2:20 left in the third quarter. Portland’s points by quarter had dropped from 26, to 23, to 17 in the third and the Rose Garden collectively held its breath waiting for another Blazer-patented scoring drought to end.
While Canales will point to Batum’s defense as the key to tonight’s win, it was his offense that gave the Blazers a chance. With five quick points he stopped the bleeding and brought the Blazers to within three heading into the final period.
With Memphis playing for the fourth seed in the West, Portland expected the Grizzlies to come out strong in the fourth and was (tonight anyway) prepared to match their effort. Marc Gasol, who had a 12-point third, was held to only four in the final period. Jamal Crawford, Wesley Matthews, and Raymond Felton combined for 25 points to put Portland ahead for good with 9:55 to go in the fourth.
Felton played an efficient game tonight. Distributing nine assists without committing any turnovers is impressive for any guard, especially a guy averaging nearly three per night. Yes, his shooting percentage wasn’t great, but few if any of his shots felt forced or ill-timed. Credit where credit is due.
Crawford once again played a huge offensive roll for Portland in his 28 minutes and kept the team afloat when the tide seemed to be turning for the worse. With his four clutch free throws to end the game he stopped any chance of a heart-wrenching home loss.
LaMarcus Aldridge spoke about Batum’s contribution on the floor tonight in the locker room, while also mentioning that the team “felt bad” about the last performance and that tonight was a “big win” for the Blazers:
The Canales Era is now at a respectable .500 heading into Los Angeles tomorrow to battle a well-rested Laker team, who itself is going through changes on the roster. One major difference, of course, is that the Lakers don’t tank. It’s plainly not an option. The question heading into tomorrow night’s game isn’t whether Batum can keep up the stellar play, or Matthew’s confidence is finally back up. It’s bigger than that. The question is whether or not to settle on a solid home win against a good team, or re-assert themselves as a threat to the eighth seed in the West.
If tanking is the plan, they have a great opportunity to throw a game away. If, under Coach Canales’ direction and inspiration, the Blazers have elected to Not Tank, they’ve got a perfect stage to shout from at Staples Center.
- Hasheem Thabeet is outrageously tall. You think you understand what 7’3” looks like, but until you back up into him and he graciously accepts your apology as you stare at him, it’s very hard to comprehend.
- Gilbert Arenas suited up for a cool 12 minutes of action tonight, and looked good. Three assists, two steals, plus a bucket and a good attitude.
- Five Blazers scored in double figures tonight.
- Luke Babbitt hit a corner three at the buzzer which was fun.
- Johnny Flynn looked comfortable while he dished out two assists in his 3:49 on the floor.