Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview & Predictions – 1/19
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Volatility. To be volatile, or to change drastically from one state to another.
That word describes the Trail Blazers as well as any other. After sucking it up and getting a big win against the eighth seed Utah Jazz, eventually tying them in the win column (Jazz are 18-22, Blazers 18-25), they followed that up with a good win in Brooklyn against a Nets team in disarray.
The next item on the plate was defeating the pathetic Philadelphia 76ers and forcing a virtual tie with Utah for eighth, which sounds crazy to say aloud considering that many thought Portland would be among the NBA’s worst teams this year.
On Saturday, the Blazers showed the world why the likes of me thought they’d be that bad. It was the worst of every kind of basketball-related situation: Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum got suckered into a my-turn, your-turn shooting game that they both stank equally at (they went a combined 10-36 for 27 points, including a combined 2-12 from three-point range), Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis got savaged by Sixers rookie center Jahlil Okafor (he had 25 points, 10 rebounds, and shot 12-16. He had more field goals than Lillard and McCollum combined. Woof.), nobody else did anything of consequence, and Portland, owners of a top-10 offense by offensive rating, could only muster a pitiful 89 points against a historically awful 76ers team.
I don’t care about any issues Portland may be having. I don’t care that East Coast games are never a good thing for a West Coast team (and vice versa). I don’t care if the Blazers just had an “off night.”
Losing to--no, GETTING BLOWN OUT BY--a Sixers team that was threatening to set the NBA most consecutive losses record (and did set it last season, I think), a team that lost 18 straight games to start the season, a team that once was 1-30 (I kid you not. ONE AND THIRTY!!!!!!), and is now 5-37, is going to be the low point of not just this season, but this rebuilding effort. God-awful they were on Saturday.
If I didn’t know better, I’d say that was damn close to a tank job, which wouldn’t make sense with the Blazers still having a chance to make the postseason. If they’re going to commit to making the playoffs this year, they need to win these kinds of games and make that commitment, dammit!
It’s amazing to remember that this same team that defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder last Sunday, a game I watched with a buddy of mine, was getting destroyed by Philly.
Time for picks! Let’s go!
(Stats provided by NBA.com and basketball-reference.com. All games can be heard on AM 620 Rip City radio.)
The Skinny: When last we saw this team, they were on the fringes of the Eastern playoff picture, struggling through shooting issues and injuries. After a month’s time, the Hawks are now in fourth in the East, atop the Southeast Division, and are 24-17.
The Kent Bazemore experiment in the starting lineup has juiced Atlanta’s offense, and Kyle Korver has mostly recovered from his horrific December shooting the ball. Al Horford and Paul Millsap continue to anchor the frontcourt as the team’s two top scorers, and the solid Jeff Teague is shooting a great 39% from beyond the arc.
As far as this team’s long-term prospects go, I’m not sure. Atlanta has been an apathetic basketball market ever since the Hawks moved there (no surprise in the heart of Football Country), and the multitude of transplants have hometown teams they root for whenever they roll into Atlanta to play the Hawks. Top tier free agents have avoided them unless they offer massive overpays; Joe Johnson and Josh Smith took way above-market deals from the Hawks, deals the current incarnation of the team just recovered from financially.
The roster has been designed to be fungible, easy to tear down at a moment’s notice. For the East’s version of the Los Angeles Clippers, a team doomed to never ascend to the top of the heap, that time might be near. If I were the Hawks, I’d keep the team as good as possible as long as possible, to build a fan base among the children of the transplants, as well as old football lifers disenchanted with the Falcons’ suckitude.
Player To Watch: Mason Plumlee. After getting completely clowned by Okafor on Saturday, Plumlee should be embarrassed. Keeping with the theme of players who need redemption after that awful display in Philly, Plumlee will need to step it up against Horford and Millsap.
Unlike with Lillard, who we all know will be raring to go, there is a question with the big fella. Let’s see how he responds.
Prediction: The Hawks are better, they’ve been on the upswing lately, and they handled the Blazers convincingly in December.
So of course Portland is going to win.
The Skinny: This game is a very big deal. It’s not because of where the longtime enemies are at currently right now in the standings; the Blazers are a dingle berry clinging to the underside of the playoff race, while the Lakers are fully in the toilet.
This game is a very big deal because this is Kobe Bryant’s very last game in the city of Portland.
The legendary guard has made a career out of torturing the Blazers, much like his idol Michael Jordan. One only needs to remember the 2000 Western Conference Finals, how the Jail Blazers gagged away a surefire Finals berth, and a chance to establish that they, and not the Shaq-Kobe Lakers (who were perennial teases then), were the post-Jordan future of the NBA.
Some shoddy officiating, and heroics from Bryant and Shaq, coupled with a historic collapse from Portland, put the Blazers in their place right alongside the early 2000s Sacramento Kings as teams that were THAT close, only to be rubbed out by the San Antonio Spurs and Shaq-Kobe Lakers.
And speaking of Sacramento, the Kings faithful gave Bryant a standing ovation during his last game there. They showered him with love and praises, and Bryant for his part got unusually sentimental. He did the usual post-game meet-and-greet, but with a definite air of wistfulness. He remarked about how hard it was to play in the Kings’ arena, how it felt like the fans were always on top of you due to the way Arco Arena was built (something older players often said about Portland’s Memorial Coliseum, by the way), and the way they got LOUD, and stayed LOUD.
I expect similar treatment to be given to Bryant when he plays here for the last time Saturday. He hasn’t had many great moments in Portland; his record here has long been abysmal, and the fans here gave him endless crap.
Still, expect many wry, wistful comments from Kobe about Portland and playing against the Blazers, expect him to take extra time saying goodbye to the fans here like he did in Sacramento, Boston, and New York, and expect the Rose Garden faithful, like the old Arco Arena faithful in Sacramento, to give Kobe his due as an all-time great with a standing ovation.
Just like the Kings’ arena will always be Arco Arena to Bryant, Portland’s rebranded Moda Center will always be the Rose Garden to him.
No matter how many times the Blazers kicked his ass in that building.
Player To Watch: Kobe Bryant. For the first time ever, I’m going to put an opposing player in this spot. This night is all about him.
Prediction: It would be poetic justice if Portland could end Kobe’s very last game against them, and sweep the season series, with a win, and have Kobe go out on his back. Officially I’ll pick the Blazers to win, but I wouldn’t mind if Kobe stuck it to us one last time.
OK, I would mind…a little bit.
Last week, the Blazers and I both went 2-1.
Trail Blazers’ Record: 18-25
Jared’s Picks Record: 20-23
Bro Counter: 17 to go before I owe him $40
Related Slideshow: 12 of the Greatest Sports Movies of All Time
Hank Stern ranks his top twelve favorite sports films.
#8 The Longest Yard
Not the remake with Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. But the hilarious original with Burt Reynolds and Eddie Albert as a wonderfully villainous warden who pits the guards against the inmates in a grudge football game that includes former Green Bay linebacker Ray Nitschke and other ex-football players like Sonny Sixkiller and Joe Kapp, both stalwart Pac-8 quarterbacks long, long ago.
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