Nine minutes and 25 seconds remained in the third quarter of the Portland Trail Blazers matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers when Raymond Felton found Gerald Wallace for a layup. The Rose Garden crowd cheered. Wallace acknowledged Felton, who he was teammates with during their days in Charlotte. Felton nodded back. Portland was up 50-32. Considering this was the third game in three nights, and considering they were playing without injured All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, everything was going better than Portland could have expected. It was after attaining this 18-point lead, though, that the wheels fell off the Blazers clearly fatigued car.
That assist was the last time Felton would be involved in a positive play. Far too many times this season the point guard has struggled mightily. Tonight’s game was no different. In 24 minutes, he was 0-7 from the field and had five turnovers to just two assists. He played a role in Portland’s second-half collapse, but given the team scored only 71 points he wasn’t alone in the woeful department.
Portland watched Clippers point guard Chris Paul come to life in the fourth quarter. To begin the hot stretch that eventually gave Los Angeles a 67-66 lead, he scored his first points of the game. Why didn’t Portland take advantage of his prior ineffectiveness? There were defensive lapses, cold-shooting, some poorly run sets, and some questionable play-calls. They just didn’t have anyone who was capable of sustaining a spark. No one had any energy.
As a result, the Blazers had 11 points in the fourth quarter. Paul alone had 13, hitting turnaround jumpers, knifing in tough baskets, and draining a pivotal three-point pointer. Los Angeles shot 38 percent for the game, made only two of 17 three-pointers, missed seven free-throws, and committed 14 turnovers, but their assortment of stars came up clutch when they needed to for the tense 74-71 victory.
Helping their chances was the wall Portland collectively hit. Nicolas Batum had 15 first-quarter points, but finished with 19. Gerald Wallace had only seven points. An incredibly quiet second half for these two contributed to only 31 points being scored after intermission. Following that Wallace layup from Felton, points of any kind were very hard to come by. Los Angeles deserves plenty of credit for this. They challenged shots at the rim, clogged driving lanes, and forced long, low-percentage jump-shots. All in all it was a forgettable game for the Blazers and a satisfying, albeit still unsightly one for the Clippers.
This defeat drops Portland to 16-15, having now lost five of its past seven games. There is a lot to be worried about concerning the team, starting with the point guard position that was so steady when Andre Miller was at the helm. Though, as was previously mentioned, the problem goes far beyond Felton, a move needs to be made. He runs the team faster than Miller did, which I’m sure is what enticed the Blazers into making the trade, but for the team to get out of its funk head coach Nate McMillan must stop going to him and rely on Elliot Williams and Nolan Smith as Jamal Crawford’s depth at the position. Throughout sports, a breather has proven to help struggling players clear their minds. And it would be nice to see what Williams and Smith can do with extended minutes.
I like Felton. I haven’t given up hope, and I think he can still be good for Portland. That said, his confidence looks to have considerably waned, his decision-making isn’t up to par, and his shot isn’t falling. In all likelihood, a demotion, and therefore a reality check, would allow him to clear his head and to diminish the amount of pressure he feels to be incredible, to live up to Miller’s consistency.
Players go through rough patches; it’s part of the rollercoaster ride that is the NBA. He is going through one, but what can’t be forgotten is that the team is, too. There is light and the end of the tunnel, however, especially if McMillan makes a necessary decision. Aldridge is due back soon, perhaps for Saturday’s game, and there is little doubting the fresh legs and athleticism of Williams and Smith would provide a much-needed spark.
Considering what has taken place lately, for Portland, it can’t get much worse than it’s been. Some adjustments made by McMillan could greatly improve the Blazers fortunes and right the ship. If not, the team will have a tough time staying afloat.