After impressive wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers, the Portland Trail Blazers looked to keep the good times going against the Phoenix Suns. The team that played, however, was far from recognizable.
Every team in every sport is going to struggle once in a while. It’s the nature of the beast, especially when so many games are fit into a tight schedule. The Blazers may have been fatigued following their win over Los Angeles the night before, but their performance suggested it was more than that. They lacked focus. There was no continuity, little aggressiveness, and a minimal amount of energy.
“I thought guys were trying to play tonight, but it was just one of those nights we just didn’t have it,” Portland head coach Nate McMillan told The Oregonian following the team’s 102-77 loss to Phoenix.
No one had anything uplifting to give. Jamal Crawford, in particular, took some head-scratchers, missing eight of his nine first-half shots. He finished 3-14 from the field with four turnovers in 21 minutes. His early woes were contagious, as the team had only 34 points at halftime and shot 32 percent for the game. Gerald Wallace, after scoring 31 points against Los Angeles, had just a single point, missing all six of his field-goal attempts. LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 28 points and 10 rebounds against Los Angeles, was also off his game, making only six shots and scoring 14 points. The list of unsightly stat-lines is much longer than this.
Whatever the reason for their ineptness, this was far from the Blazers team that dismantled the Lakers. They had opportunities for good shots. Phoenix played very well on both ends of the floor, but that is no excuse. Portland is better than them. Portland has the skillset and depth to beat any elite team in the Western Conference. The talent that has created this truth was far from present.
The most talented of them all, Aldridge, was tentative in the post. He should have the advantage over the front-line trio of Channing Frye, Marcin Gortat, and Hakim Warrick. No matter who of the three is defending him, he has the moves to manufacture baskets. He didn’t utilize his strengths. And this is why six made field goals is unacceptable, especially from someone who is the undeniable leader of the team. He has reiterated his necessity to be the head honcho. He wasn’t last night. He was lackluster, like many others.
Wallace’s performance is far more perplexing. Due to the large lead Phoenix had taken, he only played 23 minutes. Nonetheless, for someone who is usually so versatile and so aggressive to go without a field goal is strange. The Suns defense was solid in taking a convincing first-half advantage, cutting off driving lanes and forcing difficult shots, but for the player who infuses the most energy not to look to score early and often was troublesome and greatly decreased the chances of contending. He is that big of a piece to the puzzle.
The 25-point loss is one game among many. It’s easy to put too much stock in one poor performance when the team’s overall start to the season has been so tremendous. Still, frustration can rightfully be vented, especially given their sky-high potential. They had more turnovers, 17, than assists, 16, missed 17 of 19 three-point attempts, and had only three players make three field-goals or more. That just can’t happen, no matter if they played the day before.
Credit is definitely due to the Suns, a team that fueled off Portland’s struggles to the tune of 48 percent shooting and six players scoring in double-figures. Due to their efficiency, the Blazers are left wondering what happened.
“I thought they were just faster throughout the night,” McMillan said of Phoenix to The Oregonian. “They did a good job of bodying us on cuts and making us work to get in our sets. It just seemed like we were running in quicksand all night.” Come their next game, against the Cleveland Cavaliers, they better have a firm footing and play as they are capable.
Crawford isn’t worried. His analysis was simple and stress-free.
“This is a small bump in the road for sure,” he said. “Us scoring 70-something points is not who we are. You don’t stress too much about it. You watch the tape, see what you can do better and make some adjustments.”
Having put this forgettable outing in the rear-view mirror, the Blazers look to bounce back, to be the team that didn’t show up against the Phoenix. They will be playing their third game in four days, but they will be angry and out to right wrongs. The Cavaliers should be ready to face the real Portland Trail Blazers, which is among the NBA’s best.