They are the Nellie Olesens of the NBA. The Eddie Haskells. The Mandarks, The Robin Colcords, the sporting world translation/amalgamation of every snotty, supercilious shit that has ever graced a television screen.
They might as well be named the Utah Joffreys.
For all the freaking out the city of Portland has done over the last three decades when it comes to beating L.A., that's a rivalry that's existed mostly in our own heads, and nowhere else. Sure, there's been important games in the teams' combined histories, games where things have gotten heated, but I can't think of a single time I've EVER heard a Lakers player honestly say "Oh yeah, Portland. We always get excited when we see those Portland games on our schedule."
Nah. Their destiny is intertwined forever with the Celtics. We are not their rivalry. We're like the annoying younger cousin they've gotta put up with a couple times a year, all loud and spastic, spittle flying from the too tight braces glued to our teeth.
And regardless of their former location and name, the Oklahoma City Thunder don't fit that bill, either. The Sonics rivalry was never that heated, mostly because Seattle fandom has always maintained an even keel with Seattle's teams: mostly mediocre. Never too loud. Never all that heartfelt. Even at their rowdiest, the stands at Safeco, the crowds at Key Arena, feel less like a pen barely containing the combined energies of rabid animals, baying for blood, and more like a comfy booth of milquetoast librarians who had a little too much brandy in their coffee before sitting down to watch the sporting event of the day. Plus there was never any real enmity between the Blazers and the Sonics. I think the harshest it ever really got was "strained amiability."
But Utah. Ohh, Utah just brings out the worst. They always have. Look - it's not a sexy rivalry. It's not even all that storied. But it is honest, and it is real: Utah loves when the Blazers collectively catch a shot to the twig and berries. Oh, the collective giggle that comes tittering up from behind their cupped hands as our team falls backwards from the heel they just planted at the base of our gonies. Conversely, there is never a time where the city of Portland doesn't love to watch Utah get its snotbox rocked. Doesn't matter if they're on top of the standings, or residing in the NBA's basement. Utah is like Joffrey, and everybody likes it when Joffrey gets slapped the fuck up.
Utah is one game under .500, and trying to prevent a four game losing streak, matching their longest of the year. Portland is trying to win Coach Canales his first back-to-back victories, and the first back-to-back wins since late January. Utah's Josh Howard is out, leaving Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap to pick up the scoring slack.
Portland damn near knocked off the Clippers a couple games ago, and finally pulled the underwear up over the Timberwolves heads last night in a wedgie of a win. They're playing hard, hard enough that some fans are starting to let themselves get a little buzzed off the possibility that even after that Trade Deadline Implosion, this team could still sneak into the playoffs.
I say: Let's chill the fuck out on that for right now. I'm not saying squash that hope. I'm just saying set that aside for the time being. Tonight is not a night for hope. It is a night for spite; The Jazz are in town.
Raymond Felton gets to choose tonight's warmup music. He decides to choose "On My Level" by Wiz Khalifa & Too $hort. It's like choosing to drink warm milk and have your blood transfused with chamomile tea. This is not warmup music. This is watch-someone- play-Grand-Theft-Auto-for-6-straight-hours-after- robotrippin music.
This is what the building looks like 5 minutes before tipoff:
11:42 - Aldridge just picked a streaking CJ Miles on his way to the hoop with all the daintiness of a kitty batting at a mouse toy. That was cute.
10:46 - Wesley Matthews puts the first points of the night on the board, with a three after Raymond Felton split a couple Jazz and kicked out to a wide open Wesley. Gordon Hayward answers with a three on the other end, and Wesley does his part to continue the burgeoning game of "Can you top this" he's playing with a two on theo ther end. 5-3 Blazers
9:40 - Przybilla does his own little kitty impersonation, bats the ball out of Al Jefferson's hands on the way up. Felton gets his ass downcourt, finds Aldridge down low for the dunk. Next trip down the court, Matthews drains another three. CJ Miles flushes a putback dunk on the Jazz end, prompting Nicolas Batum to pop the wide open three the instant the pass hits the pads of his hands. 13-5, Blazers.
I'm waiting for them to put Luke Babbitt in, because I really have to remind myself not to accidentally type Billy Bibbitt. Which I VERY BADLY want to do every time I hear his name. While I'm waiting - LaMarcus gets another dunk. The Blazers seem to be able to go inside on these Jazz pretty much at will. 15-7 Blazers
6:56 - Aldridge with yet another feeding from Felton, just kinda dancing around the low block untouched. He's got 6, Matthews has 10, and that's 5 more points than the Jazz combined. To rub it in, Batum, trailing theJazz fast break, catches up in a hurry, and acrobatically swats a shot skyward. The crowd was almost too surprised to register approval. Next trip down, Matthes hits a nice looking 19 footer to outscore the Jazz all by himself. 21-11 Blazers
4:55 - Following a timeout, Alec Burks & Derrick Favors check in for Paul Millsap & CJ Miles, who weren't doing anything anyway. So they get to watch Aldridge hit another pretty jumper, and then another pretty jumper. Feltons's gotta be loving this - between Aldridge & Matthews draining everything they touch, he's got 4 assists and he looks really, really competent. 25-17 Blazers
3:04 - Matthews & Aldridge decide to cut out the middleman - Przybilla cleans up the Utah boards, outlets to Matthews. Matthews gets three steps past halfcourt, finds a streaking Aldridge with nobody near him. The resultant alleying of the oop is so pretty. 27-19 Blazers
1:47 - Earl Watson checks into the game for Utah, immediately finds Gordon Hayward, who immediately chucks up a three. He is Utah's
Billy Bibb—FUCK. Luke Babbitt. It is time to deploy the Babbitt. Canales agrees. He checks into the game on the next possession, but the three that drops next is not from him, but from Johnny Flynn, who probably shouldn't have shot it, and it definitely didn't look pretty. But it went in. After the following Jazz miss, the Blazers set up, and once again, Babbitt does his "I'mma hide out in the corner and wait for everyone to forget I exist thing" And so they do, and so Wesley Matthews finds him hiding out there, and he pops the three. It drops. There's a minute of dawdling, and then the quarter ends. 35-22 Blazers
Wells Fargo is dropping prizes from the rafters on little parachutes. It's fun to watch fans bat at these things like angry bears swatting at beehives. Almost NONE of them are actually trying to catch it. Their mouths are agape and their eyes are doing some sort of excitement-induced Marty Feldman thing, just throwing haymakers at these boxes and barking like seals being administered electric shock. I don't think they even know what's IN them.
11:29 - Hickson has entered the game, and goes straight at the hoop. The Jazz hit him with two bodies, and he still almost gets the shot off. The crowd is ready for him. Very, very ready. Jonny Flynn is ready for him - Everytime he comes down the court, Hickson seems to be his first and second options.
10:26 - Flynn finds Batum for a fastbreak three, which will never not look weird and make me cringe. For his efforts on the defensive end, he catches an elbow to the face trying to fight through a screen. The Jazz brick their shot, and Jonny Flynn confuses the D for a couple seconds, before leaving a behind-the-back bounce pass for Luke Babbitt, who doesn't even think. He just chucks. It drops, of course, and HOLY SHIT BILLY BIBBITT GOT SWAG. He's channeling Maximus. He stares dolefully at the crowd like "Is this not what you came for?" He's feeling himself. I love it. 43-33 Blazers
7:48 - Coming back from timeout after another three from Nicolas Batum, the Blazers run a busted offensive play consisting of Flynn dribbling off his shins, Hickson picking up the ball, missing Babbitt wide open on the outside, chucking up a prayer and missing. Luckily for the Blazers, the Jazz run their own version of the same play on their end. The Blazers answer with Flynn and Hickson running the worst pick & roll since I played 4th grade point guard. Flynn's jumper clangs off the back of the rim, and Hickson is already midair to grab it and throw it down fiercely with one hand. Except he doesn't get the grip, and he sends the ball about 30 feet skyward off the back of the rim. It winds up in Nolan Smith's hands, and the three he launches misses being an airball by about an inch of paint. 46-33 Blazers.
1:12 - Well, the internet here at the Rose Garden just took a giant shit in my lap, running as slowly and intermittently as my old Salem dial-up used to when tweekers would harvest the cable right out of the ground mid-download for sweet, sweet meth money. So the last 8 minutes of the game are lost to the ether. Quick recap: The Jazz went on a run and got to within 6 until Felton hit a three and Wesley Matthews remembered he can score at will on these guys. And then Mike Acker of Rip Ciity Project showed me an image tweeted at him by Seth J on twitter, which I will share with you. I'm guessing my internet went down because the sheer awesome of the image was too much for the tubes here at the Rose Garden.
The Jazz go on another mini-run, led by Paul Millsap remembering how to play the game with 2 minutes left, and the buzzer saves the Blazers from getting run over to close out the half. 57-54 Blazers.
Matthews has 19 at the half, Aldridge has 14, Batum's got 11, and Babbitt gained enough XP this half to finally level up to "self-confidence," which is nice to see. he has 40 more points before he can choose from the next three possible skill-sets available: Clutch, Swagger, and Thunder Shock, which is super effective. However, all that output still only equals a three point lead at the half, thanks to the Jazz and their boring, consistent, workmanlike offense, and their capitalizing on opportunities provided by the Blazers falling prey to a case of the loosey-gooseys in the 2nd quarter. The half-court offense was frequently as wobbly as Ikea furniture with no dowels provided. Canales needs to apply liberal amounts of allen wrench to that offense if they're gonna leave the Garden with a win tonight.
10:35 - Whatever dianoga is choking off my internet access in the garbage pits below the Rose Garden has just let the tubes go and disappeared long enough for me to relay that the Utah Jazz have claimed the lead, the Blazers aren't playing offense any better than they were at the end of the half, and Paul Millsap headfaked Przybilla into the air, and the slow-motion inevitability of the and-one from Joel's body falling on Millsap like a side of beef coming loose from its hook so frustrated Joel that he started barking at the referee BEFORE HE EVEN LANDED. The technical was instant. This game is getting away from the Blazers, and Canales calls a timeout with 9:21 to go in the 3rd. 64-57 Jazz.
9:15 - Gordon Hayward looks like one of the Weasley twins. I dub him Percy from now on, because I don't like him, because he just fouled Wesley Matthews pretty much straight-up, and he's whining about it like Blair from Facts of Life. Wes hits em both. The Jazz whiff their next shot attempt, but not as badly as Batum whiffs his. Felton races under the hoop to scoop up the miss, and then scoops a pass attempt straight into the stands. He follows that TO up with ANOTHER one, directly in front of Canales. It's at that point he begins to wear despair on his face very, very clearly. Canales tries to clap the sadness out of his body from the sidelines. Meanwhile, Paul Millsap is doing whatever he wants to whoever's in front of him, and the Jazz are up by 10, 68-58
6:10 - Never a good sign when the loudest cheer since the 2nd quarter is garnered by the Portland Trail Breakers. That's not to say they're not good - they're pretty damned good. It's just that the BREAKDANCERS have gotten this crowd more riled up in 90 seconds than the Blazers have in about 15 minutes. The Blazers come back from the time out, get up in Jamaal Tinsley's grill. He jacks up an ill-advised airball from three, and the attempted putback is swatted out of the sky by LaMarcus as the shotclock expires. The next trip down the court, Batum jumps an interior pass, goes downcourt and scoops a pretty looking layup off the glass. Gets back on defense, puts Millsap's 5-foot runner back in his face, goes to the other side, and drains a three. Nice to see he remembered that he's supposed to be playing the game tonight. 71-67 Jazz.
4:02 - LaMarcus Aldridge just runs in the general direction of Percy Weasley. He quails, goes limp, throws the ball in the general direction of the backcourt. Wesley Matthews saves it from going out of bounds, tiptoes for a couple steps near the sideline, goes straight at the basket, leaves it for a trailing LaMarcus Aldridge, who puts it down with two hands. 71-69 Jazz
3:27 - Raymond Felton's Bad Decisionmaking takes the stage. He drives into a clogged lane, throws up something ugly, and is complaining before his feet touch ground. The Jazz get the board, and find Percy Weasley streaking downcourt. Batum tries for the block, gets nothing but wrist as Weasley hammers home a two-hand dunk. It is awkwardly impressive. 75-71 Jazz.
2:42 - Al Jefferson quiets the Blazers faithful with a turnaround jumper amidst contact. He is also not happy with the refereeing. While he complains loudly, Aldridge gets downcourt and hits a two. Percy Weasley answers with yet another janky looking drive and finish at the hoop. Wesley Matthews scores a basket, and the next trip down, J. J. Hickson makes good on his putback dunk from the 2nd quarter, and one-hand tomahawks a missed jumper with Delta Force. Most of the crowd recoils like they just watched something really, really nasty happen. They did. 79-78 Jazz.
:5.5 - Hasheem Thabeet has checked in! The crowd is excited. He misses the opportunity to cleanly rebound a missed free throw. The Jazz jump over him, and score easily. The inbounds pass to Jonny Flynn comes with 2 seconds left on the clock. Plenty of time to race towards midcourt and heave something towards the hoop. Flynn believes there's 6 seconds left on the clock, however, and launches his 40 foot jumper 2 seconds after the buzzer sounds. 83-78 Jazz.
10:51 - Nothing makes me feel uneasy like watching Jonny Flynn & Nolan Smith play catch with each other under the Blazers basket while the clock runs down. J.J. Hickson's jumper from the top of the key is a relief. 83-80 Jazz.
9:55 - Paul Millsap goes straight at Luke Babbitt, confused and lost down low. He pokes out one of his twig like arms as Millsap goes up. The shot goes in, and Millsap wonders, quite loudly, where the hell the foul was. I can't read the ref's lips from here, but I'm pretty sure the answer was something like "You fuckin kidding me? Like THAT dude altered your shot? Or even registered at all?" Batum checks in for Babbitt on the next play. 85-80 Jazz.
9:08 - Whilst Alec Burks is shooting a free throw, Wesley Matthews is T'd up for talking shit. Add another free throw. Burks hits em both. Canales calls time-out, because his team is very, very grumpy right now, and when Canales is calling the shots? Grumpypants do not get worn. 87-80 Jazz.
It doesn't matter what's in the VIP gift bag, nobody ever seems all that happy to be recieving ANYTHING courtesy the promotional considerations of Honey Bucket, proud sponsor of the Portland Trail Blazers.
7:52 - Wesley Matthews rings up another three. He's got 27 on the night. I think consistently feeding him the ball is a decent idea. Jonny Flynn thinks aimlessly dribbling into a crowd and putting up an off-balance one-handed jumper is a better idea. It misses. Paul Millsap doesn't. 89-85 Jazz.
6:26 - After Batum misses a wide open three, Derrick Favors takes off from about 12 feet out and glides towards the basket like some sort of pterodactyl, all angles and and points. The dunk does what dunks should do: Demoralize. 91-85 Jazz.
A timeout is called, and the big screen is turned into a GIANT KENO BOARD? Do they do this often? How have I never noticed this? The Rose Garden just got turned into the biggest, most poorly stocked 7-11 in Portland. Plus I don't think anyone won.
5:27 - I don't like that the regularly scheduled game of ratball has broken out with 5 minutes to go, but I am happy that it's most strongly afflicting poor Percy Weasley, who's had two ugly shots rattle out. But the ugliness is sticking to the ball, and the offense on the Blazers end is just as ineffective. Aldridge takes matters into his own hands with 4:30 to go. The old tried & true spin & fade is like clockwork. The Felton-related turnover on the next offensive possession? Also like clockwork. A miss by Millsap is picked up by Matthews, he gives to Felton, and the O is reset. By reset, I mean Felton dribbles for 3 seconds, and then chucks up a 20 footer. It's so ugly Utah calls timeout. 94-92 Jazz.
3:21 - Millsap recieves a shaky pass from Percy Weasley. That ugly is going viral - Millsap chucks his first airball of the night. Really bad timing for Utah, especially as it came with no time left on the shotclock. Aldridge scores with a pretty up-and-under on the other side. A Utah miss goes sproinging off the top of Millsap's shoes, right into Felton's hands. Felton finds Matthews all alone in three-point land. He makes good. The crowd erupts. 97-94 Blazers
1:39 - Al Jefferson is apparently still playing the game. I totally forgot he was here. He might as well have disappeared to the locker room with Devin Harris (he left the game due to a bad ankle in the 2nd quarter, never to return) for all the effect he's had on today's game, even with his 13 points. But he drains a 14 footer from the corner of the key when it counts. Timeout is called. 97-96 Blazers.
1:25 - Hickson preps for his 6th straight unsuccessful pick & roll, all of which have led to turnovers or broken offensive plays. Felton doesn't even let it get to that point. Dribbles it off his foot. It slowly rolls out of bounds. Utah capitalizes on their next possession. Matthews misses a wide open three, and Portland goes back to hope that Utah's terrible shooting continues. They leave Jefferson wide open from 17 feet out. The shot is terrible. Batum gets the board. Canales calls a 20 second time out. 98-97 Jazz
:20.3 - I don't know what just happened. It LOOKED like Utah just picked the Blazers pockets, and Paul Millsap then just dunked right over J.J. Hickson with authority, thus deflating the entire building like Preston Lacy going through the side of a pool. It would suck if that's what actually happened. 100-97 Jazz.
:7.1 - Batum clangs a three. Portland doesn't get the rebound. Felton fouls Percy Weasley. People are popping their inflatable Blazers noisemakers in disgust as they stream towards the exits. Weasley hits his free throws. The game is over. FINAL: 102-97 Jazz.