"We're a long way from home. We're way beyond the Trade Deadline. Uncharted space. Limited supplies. Limited fuel. No allies. And now? No Hope."
- Commander William Adama, BSG 75, Blazers Fan. (Paraphrased)
The Blazers fucking SUCK at tanking. The decision to throw out the rest of the season is being handled about as well as you'd imagine by an interim GM who, according to Blazer's Edge, hasnt' even BEEN INSIDE THE OFFICE ONCE THIS YEAR.
Here's where things went wrong.
Step 1) Management decides to tank after the midseason break, with a team just barely under .500, joining a race to the bottom of the standings about a month too late, after spotting 11 other teams, most with 30 or more losses, a big head start.
Step 2) Team promotes their Cinderella Story/Walking Basketball Encyclopedia to Head Coach, generally instilling a feeling of happiness and enthusiasm in all who come across his path.
Step 3) Head Coach proceeds to go 3-3 in his first six games, as team exhibits none of the bewildering quit that got their last coach fired.
Which leads me to ask: Are we giving management too much credit? I mean, sure, you deal Gerald Wallace & Marcus Camby, get jack SHIT back in return so far as playable bodies that can contribute, and then fire the coach? That looks like TANKJOB on the face of it. But what if that's just an erroneous assumption on our part? You know what Sam Jackson says about assumptions.
What if it's just that our front office is so inept (and absent) right now that a sane mind would have no choice but to interpret these moves as a tankjob, which is what most of us have done, as opposed to the alternative: There are no hands on the wheel, no real vision for the future except for "I hope New Jersey keeps sucking," and the 34 year old video guy is the only one clambering over the front seat to take control of the car.
In the oncoming lane for tonight's game: The Best in the West Oklahoma City Thunder. So maybe fans will get to see the one of L's they've been hoping would stack up like Tetris blocks ever since the trade deadline passed, because there's more than a few people who think, Chicago's record and Miami's roster not withstanding, this Thunder team is going to win the championship this year.
There will be no Raymond Felton jokes tonight: Partially because he's not here, but mostly due to the reason he's not here: he's visiting his mother following her heart surgery. That's some scary shit. Instead, there will probably be some Nolan Smith jokes, who is getting his first ever NBA start tonight. Russell Westbrook is likely going to devour him alive. The question is whether Smith will put up a fight, or be swallowed whole, eyes wide, unblinking, uncomprehending of what's happening to him.
LaMarcus Aldridge is choosing tonight's pre-game warmup music. He chooses "Tony Montana" by Future. I have no recourse but to assume that LaMarcus likes really, really, REALLY shitty hip-hop. This is like listening to a particularly insipid freestyle by a mallrat riding the MAX home.
This is what the building looks like 5 minutes before tipoff
Coach Canales hands out fistbumps like a homeowner on Halloween with the biggest dish of candy on the block. He just told all his assistant coaches "Let's go lets go lets go" at least 3 times each. I don't know if I've ever seen a head coach try and rile up his assistants pre-game. It worked, too: I saw Buck Williams give him chest-bumps.
11:43 - Blazers definitely trying to start this thing off properly. Batum just tried lobbing an oop to Aldridge from like 40 feet out. Ibaka said no. Westbrook takes no time putting one up over Smith. It rims out. The next trip downcourt results in a give n go with Batum & Przybilla. Again, the Thunder say no. But the Vanilla Gorilla at least gets to the stripe this time, and puts the first point on the board before scraping paint off the front of the rim with an ugly 2nd shot. 1-0 Blazers.
10:19 - Both teams showing off some pretty decent ball-movement. Aldridge drains a jumper on his end, Durant drains one in response. 4-3, Thunder
9:36 - Westbrook going right at Smith. It doesn't even look like a functional drive to the basket, but he's an All-Star, Smith's a rookie, and he has no clue how to sell a charge. Westbrook only gets one of two - basketball karma at play.
8:48 - Oh goddammit Joel Pryzbilla just pinned an attempted dunk on the bottom of the rim. He got his own board, at least - only to get his shit swatted the fuck out of the key. Yeeeeeeeeesh.
8:18 - Westbrook has begun to feast on Smith. 8-3, Thunder.
7:37 - after a dunk from Aldridge, Matthews dribbles around the front, gives it to a shellshocked looking Smith, immediately coughing it up to Aldridge. He misses the jumper. The ball ends up in Batums hands, but his three doesn't drop. Aldridge skies for the board, is shoved out of the way by Thunder center Serge Ibaka. The whistle blows, and Aldridge goes to the bench to get a cut on his pinky tended to. The PA starts playing "If you Want Blood" by AC/DC. I don't think this is how Bon Scott would have wanted it. "This is the music they will play, long after I'm gone, when a multimillionaire skins his little finger." Then again, Bon Scott probably would rather he was still alive, period.
6:37 - I hate to say this, but the Vanilla Gorilla is looking more like Cranky Kong: He's had a board taken out of his hands by Westbrook, and he just got bammed on down low with a combination surprised/frustrated look on his face. I predict he starts handing out chest-chops within the next two minutes. 10-5, Thunder.
6:13 - Nolan Smith gets on the board, canning a three from behind an Aldridge screen. The scoreboard immediately flashes a Tiger-Beat styled head-shot, where he's hugging a basketball. While we all swoon, Durant knocks down a jumper. Smith finds Matthews wide open on the next possession, hits him with a skip pass right in the numbers. Matthews obliges with a trey. 14-11, Thunder.
5:07 - The crowd bays for Thabo Sefolosha's blood after it appears he side-checked poor Wesley Matthews to the ground. Turns out Matthews' ankle just basically gave up on him while coming around a screen. Luckily, the refs saw someone fall down and blew the whistle immediately. Sefolosha goes to the bench with another foul hanging from his neck. Matthews walks it off. Serge Ibaka gets smacked going to the hoop, hits both his free throws. Nolan Smith is still in the game, brings it up , gives it to Batum, who clangs another three. Aldridge gets the board, misses the putback, and the Thunder aren't letting the Blazers get any offensive boards if they have any say about it - the ensuing fastbreak ends in a Durant dunk. But he fouls Batum on the next play down, his second, and the crowd revels in his trip to the bench - but not as much as they revel in booing the shit out of Derek Fisher, who enters the game with 4:07. He promptly throws the ball away 5 seconds later. 19-14 Thunder
3:48 - Crawford and Hickson enter the game after Kendrick Perkins accidentally knocks the ball out of bounds. He immediately begins cursing himself out as he stares down the ball, then picks up the ball, then headbutts it.
3:15 - Westbrook didn't even pretend like he was gonna pass on that last play. Just waited to cross up Smith. then he did. Then he scored. Then he did it again. 23-14 Thunder
1:47 - Watching Nick Collison dunk on Portland makes me sad. 25-14, Thunder
49.4 - Russell Westbrook just dunked right on J.J. Hickson. Hickson makes up for it by recieving the lob from Kurt Thomas, and laying it up sweetly. 30-18, Thunder.
2.4 - Batum just hacked James Hardin right in the beard. Or the mohawk. One of the generally fuzzy areas on the dude's cranium. Anyway, it stopped the dunk from getting put down, which is good. It's also a sign this game is about to get away from the Blazers if they're not careful. As if to punctuate that statement - Russell Westbrook intercepts the inbound pass after Hardin nails both his free throws. He takes the time to set up and shoot, but it rims out. 32-18, Thunder.
Luke Babbitt has entered the game. He watches Nick Collison clean up the board and score an easy putback. He immediately chucks up a three within 40 seconds of being on the court, but within 1 second of touching the ball for the first time. It drops. Nick Collison answers with another easy two on his end. Someone musta told these motherfuckers it was white boy day. 36-21, Thunder.
11:01 - Johnny Flynn is running hte Blazers O now. His first decision? Make one pass to Aldridge, watch him hit a fadeaway. Seems a good plan. Royal Ivey drops a three on the other end. The PA begins playing "Get That Dirt off Your Shoulder." Jamal Crawford shakes his defender, pulls up, drains the two. Nazr Mohammed answers on the other end. The Thunder have let almost no score go unanswered all game, actually. Babbitt winds up with the ball in the corner. It leaves his hands like his arms were some sort of custom-built trey-buchets. It lands at the bottom of the net. 41-28, Thunder.
8:41 - I don't know what just came over Babbitt, but he voluntarily passed up three wide-open looks at a three-ball. two of those looks became aborted, shambling drives to the hoop that ended in a kick out. The third became a rescue mission for LaMarcus Aldridge. He bailed out Babbitt, went to the line, hit two. Johnny Flynn lobs to J.J. Hickson next trip down the court. That looked NICE. Thunder miss, Blazers board, and J.J. Hickson continues feeling himself, lofting a 17 footer that teardrops through the hoop nicely. 43-34 Thunder
6:27 - Luke Babbitt comes out, hopefully to be instructed by Canales that his job is not to dribble drive and kick out, his job is to recieve passes, and huck up threes. As soon as he leaves, James Hardin gives a prime example, and drains one after holding the ball in his hairy hands for all of .5 seconds. 50-36 Thunder
5:31 - Inbounds to Aldridge. He gets hasseld by Perkins & Ibaka. Perkins, picks up the mess, puts it in the basket. 50-38 Thunder
4:23 - Ibaka pulls down a Crawford three-attempt, and J.J. Hickson starts bothering the hell out of him. It looks for a second like it's about to get a little chippy/slappy. Durant tosses in a three on the ensuing possession, and Hickson answers by going straight at Ibaka for the two. Westbrook shakes the SHIT out Johnny Flynn for a pretty layup - Aldridge answers with an equally pretty post move. The score isn't really any closer, but the quality of play is at least gaining some consistency. Of course this means 3/5ths of the current five are being subbed out. The two still in - Matthews & Aldridge, team up for two: By team up, I mean Matthews drives thru the lane, gets mauled, gets no whistle, and Aldridge cleans up the boards with AUTHORITY, rebounding and dunking in the same vicious motion. Westbrook snuffs out the goodwill in the room on the next trip down, like some sort of anthropomorphic Tucks Medicated Pad, going baseline and dunking on Przybilla while simultaneously patting him on the chest like "There there, Cranky Kong. It's not your day." 59-44, Thunder.
1:57 - Offensive foul called on Kendrick Perkins. He looks confused as if he doesn't know what he should be headbutting in response to that. Kevin Durant has 11 points somehow. He seems to manifests baskets out of the ether, it's crazy.
1:39 - Serge Ibaka secures himself a slot on Sportscenter with a wide open dunk after Westbrook gently tosses him the pass underhanded. The next Blazers miss becomes a Kevin Durant jumper. The next Blazers miss becomes a Kevin Durant jumper. That's not a cut 'n paste error. 65-44 Thunder
Drunken fan to my right: "Weeeee shoulda drafteeed Duraaaaaaaaaaant."
WE KNOW MOTHERFUCKER. WE KNOW.
10.9 - Nolan Smith is having a pretty decent game, if you only count the times he's drawn the defense to the left side and then immediately thrown a pass right to LaMarcus Aldridge for an 18 footer. The Thunder fail to score at the buzzer. Halftime: 65-47 Thunder.
The Halftime Entertainment tonight? A man and a woman team called "Quick Change." I am told they are one of the most popular halftime entertainments in all of sports. It consists of some awkward dancing, lip-syncing incorrect lyrics, and then, an impromptu closet appears, and they change clothes really fast.
That's the act.
They've been on America's Got Talent a couple times.
So, I'd say "This is why we're losing," and then quote relevant stats, but it's pretty obvious why we're losing: This is one of the best teams in the league, and they're not half-assing it; we're already a team with a thin, broken roster, made even more slight with the loss of our regular starting point guard. Sure, shooting 42% from the field doesn't help, only three team rebounds REALLY doesn't help, and the 5 turnovers is the shit icing on that particular cupcake.
11:40 - Westbrook with another jumper. Batum scoops an underhand pass to Smith, who jacks it up from 18 feet out. It is an ugly, ungainly looking thing that goes skidding off the rim. Matthews intercepts a pass on the other end. The ball ends up in Batum's hands. He once again gives it to Smith, who tries a dribble drive, ending in a floater over Ibaka. It is ugly as hell, but the ball goes out of bounds off the Thunder. Smith gets his third try at something resembling a successful drive to the hoop. He dribbles straight at the two tallest Thunder players on the court, and airballs a 7 footer. 67-47 Thunder
9:31 - Durant intercepts an errant pass, finds himself alone in the great wide open. He lazily cradles the ball, flushes it through. Canales calls a 20 second time out. 69-49 Thunder.
You know who wants nothing to do with anything tonight? Nicolas Batum. He's more invisible than Kevin Bacon in the Hollow Man. He's 1 of 5, & he's leading the team in "Get this shit out of my hands as fast as fucking possible". Apparently Canales pointed this out to him in the timeout: Next possession, Batum goes hard to the hoop, gets hit, maintains control, scores the basket. 69-51 Thunder.
7:41 - after both teams engage in some rec-center level ratball, Nicolas Batum finds himself with the ball in the corner. Decides to jack up a three. It drops. The D forces a looseball on the other end. Batum winds up with it, streaks downcourt, goes behind his back, and leaves the ground, arm cocked and ready to beat the rim up. He gets blocked by Serge Ibaka. The crowd boos, not so much because they think a foul should be called, but because Serge Ibaka is fucking with our flow, man.
6:32 - Batum has taken a shot every time he's touched the ball so far. I like this. The next trip down the floor, he sees himself skying for a sure dunk. He doesn't see Russell Westbrook throwing a forearm around his waist and dragging him to the floor. He hits both free throws as the crowd shouts daggers at Westbrook. 71-60 Thunder
5:47 - Aldridge bumps into Kendrick Perkins a couple times on the low court. Perkins looks confused. Aldridge spins and does that fadeaway thing he does. It drops. Oklahoma calls timeout. Kendrick Perkins is wearing a look on his face like he just saw David Blaine do something weird with a playing card. 71-63 Thunder.
4:49 - Russell Westbrook incurs some more Basketball Karma, trying to sell a shitty flop against Kurt Thomas, who was no more mobile than a strip of asphalt. On the other end, Wesley Matthews rattles home a three. Speaking of rattled: Westbrook just tried some more bad acting - and got called for the charge. The Blazers can't capitalize, and Westbrook ends up wide open on the other end, banking in the layup. Aldridge gets himself another deuce, Westbrook rings up two more, and Jonny Flynn kills the mood by sorta jogging into the key and hipshotting an ugly layup. Westbrook makes him pay on the other end. Canales calls time, strides out onto the court and immediately starts sketching out a play. 77-68 Thunder
2:10 - Flynn skips a pass crosscourt to Matthews, who sees Durant lurking, waiting for him to throw it to Batum in the corner. Matthews sets himself, and journeys into the heart of Thunder territory, lofts a little runner that bounces around the rim and drops through. 77-70, Thunder.
Ugh - Kurt Thomas just got his shit blocked so hard. It looked like a bear swatting a beehive off of a hanging limb.
1:21 - Babbitt just entered the game. If he doesn't chuck a three up iin the next minute and 30 seconds, I'll be very surprised. Jonny Flynn tries version 2.0 of his weird, ambling drive to the hoop. It drops this time. Durant scores another three that I didn't even see him shoot. I swear, he's like a jumpshot vaporator. Flynn's got the hang of it, goes straight at the hoop again. The Thunder manage to put a body on him, and he goes to the line, hits both. 82-73 Thunder
:22 - Jamal Crawford has the ball at the top of the key. You think it's gonna end up in a couple crossover attempts and then a weird runner? It does. J.J. Hickson is there to clean his plate. Durant misses a three at the buzzer, and the third quarter ends 84-75, Thunder.
11:47 - Crawford to Hickson, who slides across the lane, gets the contact, and almost falls all the way backwards while shooting. Before that: Babbitt once again passes up the three to go running around the baseline, dribbling and not shooting threes. This is a bad habit, and I am not fond of it. Drunk dude from before is now yelling unintelligible profanities that end in "...YOU, COLLISON." I approve. I do not approve of Hickson missing both free throws.
11:17 - Derek Fisher just stood at the top of the key with the ball for 5 seconds, which to be honest, looks a lot like him driving to the hoop these days. He takes two dribbles sideways, hits the jumper. On the defensive end of the court, he slides in front of Jamal Crawford, having taken care to count the crossover attempts, and guessing correctly when the dribble forward-to-awkward-jumper partof his repertoire is going to happen. He gets the offensive call. The Thunder can't capitalize, and Hickson comes back on the other end, going right at Collison and getting the two. "AHargha bLARHARGHflarg hrag gragyYOU, COLLISON." 86-77 Thunder.
9:23 - this is not a good sign: Crawford and Hickson appear to be having an ARGUMENT over what play should be called WHILE CRAWFORD IS CALLING IT. The play becomes "Feed Hickson the ball, and let sheer athleticism turn it into a layup." The play is successful. 90-79, Thunder.
8:43 - He's trying hard. He really is. But Nolan Smith has airballed three layups tonight.
7:00 - Jamal Crawford, who just got a tech for talking shit, is guarding Kevin Durant all alone out on the perimeter. So you know that's a two just waiting to happen. 96-79 Thunder.
6:14 - And I think this game is, effectively, done. Kendrick Perkins recieves the ball on the low post, and LaMarcus just grabs the dude and spins him round round baby round round. It's not like Perkins is a viable threat or anything - he talks to basketballs. Players are just jogging up and down the court now. Really the only one still showing any energy is Matthews, and he's pretty much killing himself for no reason. Canales calls a timeout. 98-81 Thunder.
5:21 - Westbrook just shook Hickson so hard it's like he force pushed him out of the way. The jumper afterwards was a foregone conclusion. Jonny Flynn knocks down an uncontested three on the other end. Westbrook pushes up another jumper in response, which drops. 102-86 Thunder.
4:17 - James Hardin just daggered the night with a three. The guy running the scoreboard answers with a video of a man in a cat suit holding a pitchfork and clapping along to the theme song of a television show maybe 10 percent of the people in the building have ever even heard of. This is intended to lift spirits. It plays to the backs of a steady stream of fans heading to the exits. As I typed this Russell Westbrook scored two more times. 109-90, Thunder
1:20 - Ratball is reigning. The only people left are people who wanna see Hasheem Thabeet touch the basketball. Not even shoot it. Just TOUCH it. Unfortunately, J.J. Hickson is looking to get some shine in garbage time, so anytime he touches the ball, it's going up. Hell, he just bodied Thabeet off the low block to get a rebound. The refs call a foul on someone that isn't Hickson (who actually fouled Thabeet) and Thabeet goes to the line, hits his two shots, and the Blazer faithful cheers. I guess that's the victory they're going home with tonight. They saw Thabeet score.
FINAL: 109-95, Thunder.