Finally, a win we can all feel good about. Right?
I find myself perpetually confused about who and what I’m cheering for. A season-ticket-holding friend crystallized this plight in a text earlier tonight: “This game is awkward. I’m confused about which draft pick I should be rooting for.”
That’s where we’re at.
After trading two popular starters for some scraps plus Jonny Flynn, Blazer fans aren’t sure which way is up. It feels like nothing’s at stake anymore. Twenty-thousand people gathered at the Rose Garden tonight to watch two teams compete for nothing bigger than the lead at the end of 48 minutes. In this brave new world where losses are wins, lottery positioning is the new playoff positioning. It certainly doesn’t feel like April.
Reporters after the game pushed for a “Gerald Wallace Returns to Portland” storyline that was forced at best. Sure, the guy used to play here and fans loved him, but with only a few weeks left in the season is this really what the Blazers want to be talking about?
It might as well have been a charity game.
At least at LaMarcus Aldridge’s event during the lockout fans got to watch Kevin Durant drop 47 points. Maybe that’s exactly what you did tonight. Maybe you’re here because you decided to skip this completely futile contest in favor of Oklahoma City at Miami, or the Battle of Los Angeles, and you’re curious how it turned out. Who can blame you? Why put yourself through Tank City with Lob City two channels away? Why sit through two and a half hours of mediocre basketball when a few weeks from now, on lottery day, it’s the loser of this contest who will be rewarded?
If you’re here for a recap, I apologize for the delay. Distracted by Gerald Wallace in a Nets jersey and the possibility of the fourth pick in the draft, my inner basketball existentialist got the better of me. Calling this rant a digression would seem generous, so we’ll just go ahead and start clean with a more measured analysis.
The loudest cheers, by far, to start the game went to Wallace, who didn’t have an especially strong game on the offensive end for New Jersey. With Deron Williams out, Wallace saw a lot of time handling the ball for the Nets and finished just 3-12 from the floor for eight points. Kris Humphries picked up some of the scoring slack, dropping a team-high 21 points and adding 11 rebounds for the depleted Nets. His energy around the basket was a huge factor in keeping the game relatively close throughout. It was the New Jersey bench who made the biggest impact on the game, outscoring the Blazer bench 55-36. Anthony Morrow and Gerald Green torched the Blazers back court reserves for 20 points apiece.
The bright spot off the bench for Portland was again JJ Hickson, who not only finished with 18 points on 7-10 shooting, but connected on two thunderous dunks to end the third, helping the Rose Garden faithful forget that this game was worth close to nothing in the grand scheme of things.
Maybe I’m over reacting, primed by a plethora of HoopIdea articles attempting to fix the lottery system. Watching Nicolas Batum hit 50% of his shots (including four three pointers), scoring 20 points and adding 10 rebounds for a triple-double certainly isn’t worthless. Neither is the thrill of Luke Babbitt sinking a three at the third quarter buzzer for the loudest applause of the night from the Rose Garden. This season seems to endlessly provoke existential crises.
Jumping back to Hickson for a moment: the guy can play, and his teammates in the locker room all seem to respect him and enjoy having him on the court. He’s becoming more comfortable in Portland, and comes across as genuine when he says he’s happy here. Asked about how he feels playing with Hickson down the stretch, LaMarcus Aldridge had only good things to say about the newest Blazer: “He’s so active, I’ve always wanted to play with someone like that. A Lou Amundson, a Reggie Evans…somebody that’s active, keeping guys on their toes. He’s been big late in games with teams coming in on me he’s been getting easy buckets.”
So, maybe it’s not all bad. Maybe the cynic in me hasn’t won. Evaluating new talent is never a bad thing.
But Blazer fans are in no enviable position, knowing that every win this season means perhaps missing a player in the lottery who can help for years to come. Or possibly worse yet: not knowing whether twenty-thousand fans stood cheering for a Blazer win, or for a New Jersey loss.
- Batum’s double-double was the second of the season, the first coming Monday against the Jazz. This is the first time he’s recorded consecutive double-doubles.
- JJ Hickson is averaging 14.6 PPG as a Blazer.
- Portland scored 30 of its 36 points in the paint in the second half.
- Luke Babbitt extended his streak of consecutive games scoring at least two three-pointers to seven. That was an awkward sentence.
- Wesley Matthews and Jamal Crawford’s shooting woes continued. The pair combined to shoot just 4-19 from the floor.
- In the Nolan Smith/Jonny Flynn minute count, Flynn bested Smith fourteen to seven.
- Hickson’s post game video can be found below, and Batum and Canales’ can be found here. The locker room was a bit rowdy, and the sound was no good on some of the interviews.