One game removed from perhaps their most impressive showing of the season, the Blazers reverted to form in New Orleans, spending most of the game out of sync before tightening things up through crunch time and pinning their hopes on an improbable shot. If there is a story to this game, it will be that the Blazers proved themselves unable to put their peripatetic ways behind them as the schedule fades into March meaninglessness.
Or perhaps, not total meaninglessness. When the Blazers are winning, the idea of dropping games in pursuit of their top 12-protected pick is a tough sell; in fact, given that the Blazers owe their pick to the Bobcats next year even if they keep it this year, I’ve been pretty vocal in my lack of support for tanking. That said, the prospect of putting the rest of the season to use in pursuit of an asset is growing more appealing to me when considered against the alternative of literally inconsequential games. There’s some small irony in this, since most tanking detractors say that tanking makes the NBA season less meaningful, but if the Blazers play .500 ball the rest of the way, their games actually carry a little less weight than they would with a few more losses. As I’m warming up to the idea, it gets sort of fun to think about.
As far as tonight’s action, Blazers fans have watched this game before. The team came out and quickly built a small lead as the Hornets started 1-9 from the floor, but fell behind as soon as New Orleans started finding the bucket. In fact, the Blazers’ lead before Ryan Anderson’s go-ahead lay-up at 96-95 was their first since 25-24 in the first quarter. For most of the game, Portland looked disjointed while they maintained enough contact that Wesley Matthews’ hot shooting gave them some hope in the fourth.
And hot he was. Playing on an ailing [insert orthopedic anatomy here] as always, Matthews finished 6-11 from beyond the arc and buoyed an otherwise lackluster offense. The fluidity on display from the Maynor-Lillard lineups against San Antonio was largely absent, and in his 20 minutes Maynor had a relatively quiet 7 points and 4 assists against 3 turnovers. Lillard was a more-productive 9-16 for 20 points and 8 assists with 4 turnovers, but the majority of Portland’s offensive success came late from Matthews.
As for the Hornets, this was a strong showing. Greivis Vasquez matched Lillard’s 20 on fewer shots, While Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis both posted double-doubles. Davis had a sort of sneaky 18 and 10, but showed an ability to constantly put himself in a position to make plays. Between one spectacular chase-down block, a crucial save to get Ryan Anderson a clutch three, and a few impressive tip-ins, Davis showed that he’s already savvy about putting himself in place to take advantage of his phenomenal athleticism.
On the whole, this will not be a game that Blazers fans look back on with any particular feeling, but with 20 games left, it was a check on fans’ hopes to see the Blazers build on their performance against the Spurs and continue their improbable season. But improbable is gradually giving way to the probable, and while he schedule keeps getting tougher as the season winds down, the Blazers might be wise to consider trading a shot at a miracle for less glamorous long-term strategy.