When I’m critical of a few things during a Portland win over the likes of the Clippers or Knicks, people don’t get it. They think it’s just old Mr. Negative again, doing his thing. Raining on someone’s parade.
But the point is, for a team determined — as spelled out by its coach and its general manager — to get into the second round of the playoffs (meaning being one of the top four teams in the conference), the expectations must be higher. And that means you want to see execution and effort every night.
But in the first real challenge of the season against a team with lofty playoff expectations itself, the Trail Blazers failed the test. I was disappointed with the lack of effort, first of all. I thought Portland looked like your average college football team trying to keep up with Oregon’s uptempo Ducks. It was as if the Bulls were playing at a much faster pace than the Blazers, who allowed 27 fast-break points.
Portland’s heavy reliance on the outside game was a downfall, too. Going 0-for-14 on three-point field goals is not going to win you many games and it concerns me that this team — like most of coach Nate McMillan’s squads — is so built on the long-distance shot. I just don’t believe this team is loaded up with shooters strong or consistent enough to carry this strategy successfully through a season.
But there is a lot to be concerned about. Brandon Roy is still not consistently getting good shots. He was 4-for-12 from the floor and looking uncomfortable. But the Bulls were an upgrade as a defensive foe for Portland and they were just not going to allow Roy to take people off the dribble and get to the basket. And most times, the Blazers have no other way to get Roy the ball where he needs to get it — near the basket.
And Roy doesn’t seem all that patient with any other way to play but to take the ball down there himself. Some things just don’t change.
LaMarcus Aldridge was very good — finally shooting something other than fallaway jumpers. Wesley Matthews appeared to injure his left shoulder late in the game but he’s been pretty much a nonfactor most of the regular season, after being the big star of the exhibition campaign. I just don’t think he’s a very good fit in Portland’s unstructured offensive “system” — which is, a lot of the time, a sort of “here’s the ball, go make something happen” kind of deal where players have to get their own shots.
Matthews doesn’t appear to be a one-on-one guy. Like most players, he needs a system to help himself get good shots.
I also wonder about the coach’s commitment to Nic Batum. He played just 17:53 last night. Yes, he had trouble getting shots down and had just one rebound in that time. But my point is, I believe he’s a good enough player and important enough for this team that he gets minutes even on the nights when he starts slowly. But only Roy and Aldridge get that kind of commitment, it seems. And the team has gotten so dependent on those two players that it’s again very predictable.
Yeah, just one game. But really, if things are going to get better — if this team is going to be one of the top four teams in a competitive Western Conference — these kinds of games need to be won, or at least a lot more competitive.
Or at the very least, we need to see signs of at least some attempt to change.