Nothing like a visit from the lowly New Orleans Hornets on a rainy Thursday evening to really suck the fun out of basketball. With both the Hornets and the Portland Trail Blazers sitting near the bottom of the Western Conference, tonight was a good old fashioned tank off.
The crowd was dead, the teams were lethargic—the atmosphere felt more like pre-season than any sort of late season contest. Some of the largest cheers of the night came from a couple successive Luke Babbitt threes. Whether the cheering was facetious or real, I’m not sure. Babbitt did end the night with a career high, though, even though Nicolas Batum gave him grief after the game for only being able to go left off the dribble.
It’s no coincidence that now, when losing teams have little left to play for and would be better situated for future success by avoiding wins, is when Henry Abbott introduced his brave new tank-free world. Watching teams go through the motions with nothing at stake is downright brutal.
Credit to the Hornets, though. Former Blazer assistant Monty Williams has his team playing with all sorts of scrap and energy, even though they’re currently missing key pieces like Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Trevor Ariza, and Jarrett Jack. With short-handed wins against the Wolves and the Clippers, and a couple of close losses to the Spurs and Lakers, it’s like the Hornets don’t realize tanking is in their best interest.
Which is how it should be.
“Coach Monty and his staff, they do a tremendous job,” said Blazers coach Kaleb Canales. “Those guys are going to come out hard every single night, and they did.”
But for now, with their thirty-eighth loss, the Hornets technically got the best of tonight’s matchup. More losses, more ping pong balls, more chances to get a high draft pick. Portland earned the victory, but the win almost rings hollow in this tanking atmosphere.
Riding the starters at this point seems completely counterintuitive. LaMarcus Aldridge had to have an MRI on an aching hip recently—giving him a couple nights off to prevent further injury would be in the team’s best interest.
Jamal Crawford, mired in an unbelievably bad shooting slump, shouldn’t be getting twenty minutes a night. Air Bud deserves more minutes than Crawford at this point.
Raymond Felton? Ugh. His future is not in Portland, especially not after he choked away two chalupa-sealing free throws at the end of tonight’s game.
This season is lost—why not give Hasheem Thabeet some run to see if his career can be salvaged? Why not roll the dice with Jonny Flynn? What’s the worst that can happen? The team losing is technically the best case scenario, and there’s a chance that one of these guys proves to be a great fit for the team who will earn a spot in the rotation next year.
It’s working for J.J. Hickson. He’s played meaningful minutes, found himself on the court during the end of a tight game, and because of his solid play, Joel Przybilla only played sixteen minutes and Kurt Thomas earned a DNP-CD. He’s not an answer, but he’s proving he could be an important cog in the Blazer’s pinwheel going forward.
As long as teams are going to be rewarded for tanking through the lottery, wins are useless. Good on Portland for pulling out a tight victory—the guys seemed to be really enjoying themselves in the locker room after the game, something that hasn’t been seen much this season—but the unfortunate reality is the loss would have been so much more important.