At the end of the first quarter, the Blazers had the ball for the final shot. Jonny Flynn dribbled to the corner, only to be met by an attempted pick by Luke Babbitt. The two players awkwardly found themselves occupying the same spot on the floor, not sure of how to react, scrambling to make something happen on offense and unable to get out of each other’s way.
The quarter ended with the ball in Babbitt’s hands beyond the arc—he wasn’t able to get a shot off in time, dejectedly standing there as the buzzer sounded.
And that’s exactly where this team is. A bunch of young pieces, struggling to find some rhythm and consistency, struggling to learn how to play together in a shortened season.
It’s a far cry from the Minnesota Timberwolves, a young team on the rise with every reason to be optimistic for the future. Even with cornerstones Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic injured, the core of Kevin Love and Derrick Williams is enough to make the Wolves a young team trending upwards and making waves in the Western Conference.
Compare that to a Portland team whose downward spiral has been well documented, and it doesn’t feel like these teams should hold nearly identical records, yet they do.
On a night when a loss would have really done Portland well for lottery positioning, the Blazers had no interest in riding the tank train. That became pretty apparent at the end of the second quarter when LaMarcus Aldridge got in the face of Kevin Love. The two had been battling on successive possessions, jockeying for position and getting incredibly physical with each other. Aldridge showed no interest in rolling over, though after the game he wasn’t nothing but civil about the confrontation, refusing to comment on it.“Just two guys going hard tonight,” said Aldridge. Simple as that.
“He played like an All Star,” said coach Kaleb Canales after the game. “He’s our All Star. He’s our go to player. Nothing on the floor he does surprises me, or surprises us as a coaching staff.”
Aldridge owned this game. In the last two meetings between these two teams, Kevin Love held the best power forward on the court title. LaMarcus reversed that trend tonight—he kept Love off the glass, denied good post position, and used his arsenal of moves on the offensive end to keep Love off balance and guessing.
When asked about how Portland was able to keep Love in check, Nicolas Batum just pointed to Aldridge and said, “This guy.” He praised Aldridge’s aggressiveness, and thought the little skirmish between the two players acted as motivation.
The rest of the Blazers followed suit. Jamal Crawford’s shot remained on as he finished six for eleven from the floor, his second good game in a row . Nicolas Batum was a presence on both ends of the floor, blocking shots and being aggressive on the break. Role players J.J. Hickson (four offensive rebounds), Luke Babbitt (two made threes), and Jonny Flynn (seven assists) filled in quality minutes.
Flynn and Babbitt were even able to give the old end of the quarter thing a redo, connecting for a buzzer beating fast break at the end of the third. A real nice confidence boost.
Also, Raymond Felton was two rebounds away from a triple double. Raymond Felton. Near triple double. Your eyes are not deceiving you. You know things are going right when Felton is putting up those kinds of numbers.
This win clearly felt good to everyone, as the postgame joking was in abundance. After suffering through the first two-thirds of this season, the players are clearly having fun again. It’s starting to show on the court, too—the guys were running, the ball was flying around the perimeter, and everyone seemed loose.
The winning may not be anywhere near the best possible outcome at this point, but as the season enters its final stages and the slog of the schedule starts to grate, having fun and giving the young guys some serious run are definitely welcome additions. Now, about that tanking…