Take this sinking boat, and point it home. We've still got time.
— Glen Hansard, sentimental busker, accidental Blazers analyst.
Three and One-Half games stand between this Blazers team and an unlikely trip to the playoffs in this, the 2012 Clusterfucked Season of Confusion and Consternation. Those three and one-half games constitute the distance between the 9th place Blazers and the 8th place Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference of the National Basketball Association. The question isn't "Can we close that gap?" That's not a question "we" can answer, since for almost everyone reading, "we" don't have shit to say about it.
(Unless one of the "we" reading is Luke Babbitt, in which case DUDE JUST CATCH THE BALL AND SHOOT IT IMMEDIATELY. STOP TRYING TO "CONTRIBUTE TO THE OFFENSE" IN ANY OTHER WAY THAN THAT. YOU ARE THE CHALUPACABRA NOW. CHALUPACABRAS DON'T DRIBBLE. THEY KILL THREES WITH NO MERCY, AND NO HESITATION. ACCEPT YOUR DESTINY.)
For the rest of us, the question "we" can answer is "Should we want it?" It's the question a lot of fans have been wrestling with for about a month now. I gotta imagine being a Blazers fan is one of the weirdest, most frustrating things to be this year. Normally, the answer to that question is an immediate "Yes, fool!" but lets be pragmatic about this shit:
1) No way this team advances beyond the first round
2) No way this team needs any extra pressure pushing down on their wobbly legs
Pragmatically, it's probably best that we play out the string, look in at the postseason from the outside, reflect on the positives of the last half of the season, and begin building, as early as possible, a path towards redemption for 2013. That's a lot easier to do without having all that perspective and focus muddied up by a scrambling, frantic first-round tilt at a windmill most impossible. Down that road lies ever more disappointment, frustration, and potential injury.
But pragmatism isn't exciting, romantic, thrilling, or inspiring, either. It's kinda boring, in fact. Who wants to see the kid who shouldn't even be sitting at the table fold out at the poker tournament when he might - he just might - pull a couple cards on the flop that change the whole damned game? Who roots for that?
I mean, this just happened two games ago:
How could you look at that happiness, excitement, and ability, and want it all shut down right on cue at the end of April? Why wouldn't you want to get to the playoffs this year if you could?
The answer, of course, is time. Let LaMarcus Aldridge tell it:
“I don't think I've reached my prime yet. So, if we get a good group of rookies in this draft, they'll be able to gain some experience in the next couple of years and we'll be a force a couple of years from now. You don't reach your prime until you're about 28 or 29. I'm 26 so I got a few more years until then. If we bring in the right guys, we'll be very good down the road.”
Why settle for scraps at the 2012 playoff table when you can wait, plot, plan, prep, and practice for the coming years, and then just storm in and kick the goddamned table over? Aren't we in a position to do that? Wasn't that the whole point of the Trade Deadline Implosion? Why deviate from the plan (such as it is) even further and take a lottery pick off the table?
Say New Jersey shits the bed worse than Spud in Trainspotting, and they end up with one of the 3 worst records in the league. Portland, thanks to their romantic storming of the gates in the final weeks of the season, goes from 2 lottery picks to none. For what? Another first round loss? We've got enough of those bones littered around the graveyard of Blazers seasons past.
Nah. Glen Hansard had the right idea: Take this boat, and point it home. It can be fixed, it can be rebuilt. There's plenty of time. It doesn't have to happen this year. It probably shouldn't happen this year. Hell, the faster this snakebit year sheds its skin, the better. It's possible to enjoy the team's play, to appreciate the team's hustle, without transmogrifying it into more poisoned expectation.
Dwight Jaynes asked today if there was any hope left for Portland. I believe there's plenty. I just don't believe the remaining reserves of it need to be spent on the last two weeks of the 2012 season.
So, Marcus Camby comes back to Portland today. I'm betting he tries to go as nuts as possible in the low post, considering he represented the last center-ish option the Blazers had beyond the 15mpg that Joel Przybilla puts in. (Przybilla's vital stats this season: 15 profanities, 4.5 scowls, 3 meaty chest-chops and 2 gallons of sweat per game)
Houston also has the Western Conference's player of the week in Goran Dragic, who has a name like a Cannon Films villain, but game like a Cannon Films hero: He shoots fast, he shoots often, and he scores without remorse. And of course, Shaggy Scola, sure to annoy with his slippery, greasy ass scoring at all the wrong moments.
Both Houston and Portland have big contributors not running at 100% tonight: Kyle Lowry is back from an injury and not all the way there - Nicolas Batum almost sat today out with a case of tendinitis, but is listed as a probable starter, joining the typical crew: Wes Matthews, Raymond Felton, The Vanilla Gorilla and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Jonny Flynn gets to select tonight's warm up music. He chooses Public Service Announcement by Jay-Z. Goddamn. It took Jonny Flynn for a Blazer to make an above-average warm-up music pick. It's sort of astounding how much the Blazers love garbage hip-hop. But maybe that's just me being old and grumpy. At some point, a large contingent of popular hip-hop became this rubbery, tupperware, plasticene thing holding bowlfuls of samey shit. At least this has some dynamics. Some neck-cracking snares, horn hits, a drum pattern that does more than just tick like a busted egg-timer.
Yeah. I'm old.
Looks like Batum ISN'T playing. That means Jamal Crawford gets the nod. Should be interesting.
Also - the pop for Camby was pretty nice. Not as nice as it was for Gerald Wallace a couple games ago, but nice.
11:14 - After a Scola miss (always a reason for celebration) Wesley Matthews passes up at least 2 wide open threes as Dragic plays off him by like 5 feet. he instead tosses to Aldridge, who clangs a long two. I don't know if we're gonna wanna pass up too many threes.
10:36 - Felton put up a decent looking jumper. It hit rim. The crystal clear screech of "BULLSHIT" from the 200 section echoes loudly.
9:55 - The first points are finally put on the board after what feels like 50 shot attempts from both teams - and it's a putback by Aldridge after Przybilla missed at pointblank—
—oh, nevermind. That putback was waved off. I guess we go back to throwing balls at invisible chastity belts glued to the rim.
9:05 - Courtney Lee scores from like 26 feet out - and then Wesley Matthews makes up for his mistake at the top of the quarter, and busts the first three opportunity he gets. I guess someone had to just break the seal. To make it even better: Scola does his schlumpy, slippery spin-move, and gets blocked so hard by Aldridge he just falls down. The floor looks like a quick episode of Double Dare just happened on it. Aldridge scores in Camby's face with a sweet little 15 footer on the other end. Dragic answers. Letting that guy heat up is a bad idea. Crawford and Felton are playing a game of back & forth. It ends with rim and nothing more. Dragic pulls a move from Crawford's playbook. You know the move: Dribble aimlessly. Jack up a three. 9-5, Rockets.
6:40 - Felton sees LaMarcus just kinda waiting around on the low-post. Sees Marcus Camby's old ass looking confused in that same area. Throws the lob. Camby doesn't even get to turn around before Aldridge flushes it. 9-7, Rockets.
5:52 - Felton proves the only offensive play that seems to be working on either end is "Dribble up and shoot a three in 5 seconds." I'm cool with it. Guns are for blazing. Who needs holsters? 11-10 Rockets.
4:47 - J.J. Hickson has entered the game. Large portions of the Rose Garden just scooted forward in their seats a little beit. Just in time to watch Scola fall, headfirst, to the ground after tripping over LaMarcus Aldridge's forearm. By tripping, I mean, they brushed forearms, and then the weight of Scola's giant, slimy noggin, sent him tumbling to the ground. Foul on Aldridge.
3:45 - Both teams are shooting Shit-point-ass percent from the field. J.J. Hickson finally gets two points on the board, which amps the crowd, only for Scola to put a pin in that with a two, only for Felton to lose the bal to "Not Me" from the Family Circus, only for Felton to get back on D and steal it right back (Yup. Happened) flip it ahead to Crawford, who sees Hickson filling the wing on the break, dishes, and enjoys thoroughly the dunk that comes crashing down like a howitzer shell. 15-15, Timeout Rockets.
2:50 - Portland puts in Hasheem Thabeet. Houston puts in Chase Budinger. I always feel like Budinger should play with an ascot. Or a cravat. Something like that. Anyway - Budinger is like their Babbitt. Speaking of which, Babbitt is in, too. I've been typing for about 1 minute and nobody's chucked up a three yet. It's kinda amazing. Thabeet even got to touch the ball. And then Dragic pretty much swept away anyone in his path, scored the layup, and Courtney Lee got a breakaway dunk on a turnover, and it's 19-15, Rockets.
:60 - Babbitt just hit a pretty jumper coming off a curl. I don't know if I like him adding to his offensive repertoire like this. Shooting after moving? Let's not complicate things. However, a bucket's a bucket, and the Blazers are having a hard time finding one in the last 2 minutes. And then, indignity of indignities - Marcus Camby closes out the first quarter with a three before the buzzer. The crowd went silent in shock, and then booed at the AUDACITY of Camby's shot selection. And that's how the quarter ends. 24-17, Rockets.
11:40 - Surprises abound: Babbitt with a competent drive to the basket? Successful dish to Hickson? Hickson NOT immediately exploding in a tangle of limbs and good intentions towards the basket? Instead, Jonny Flynn ends up with the ball and banks home an improbabey reverse layup in traffic? sure to make Sportscenter? And then, after a Chase Budinger layup, J.J. Hickson does do his explodey thing, picking up a missed shot as it skids off the glass and ramming it home oh-so-satisfyingly. 26-21, Rockets.
9:50 - Babbitt is guarding Budinger. I just went blind. At some point, the ball goes flying out of that mess of pale awkward, and it ends up in Courtney Lee's hands. The three drops. 30-23, Rockets.
8:59 - A timeout on the floor allows me to marvel at how young Canales looks, especially when he's up and yelling at the players, and less than 20 feet away from him is Kevin McHale, lumbering and squinting at things. McHale was winning championships when Canales was in elementary school, learning behind-the-back dribbles on his family driveway. I mean, he looks young anyway, but it's so WEIRD seeing him out there, with his .500 record, his hands in his pockets, his eyes perpetually wide, next to this weathered, craggy old Basketball Mage from the 80s.
8:44 - Babbitt with another deuce. Points are points, but if he doesn't start just standing in a corner and chucking up threes, I'm going to be all sorts of worried that something is wrong with him. Maybe he's on the drugs. Or listening to the rap music. Oh, there he goes. Matthews just found him behind the arc with nobody on him. Should be — HE MISSED. See, it's all that MOVING AROUND and TRYING TO PLAY DEFENSE and DRIVING TO THE HOOP that's throwing off the Chalupacabra's magic three-killing powers. He awkwardly hacks the shit out of Patrick Patterson on the next trip down, who not only scores 2 free throws, but the jumper on the next possession. 36-25, Rockets.
6:53 - Nobody expects anything when Nolan Smith shoots. They just don't. He's a nice dude, and the best at mugging for the cameras and pretending to eat cupcakes. But him trying to create a shot for himself is like watching a turtle try to flip itself over.
5:57 - J.J. Hickson hustles really, really hard - but his defense isn't the best. to prove this point, Chase Budinger adjusts his cufflinks, affixes his monocle, and suavely glides to the hoop, right past him, in slo-motion. This gives Aldridge time to rotate over, though, and Budinger gets his shit slapped into the 3rd row. 36-27, Rockets.
5:25 - Kyle Lowry doesn't look hurt. Not if that drive & pull-up is any indication. 38-27 Rockets
4:49 - SEE, BABBITT? See how Budinger just waits in the corner for someone to throw his skinny ass the ball? See how he just immediately chucks it towards the rim? THAT SHOULD BE YOU. 41-27, Rockets.
4:00 - Felton finds Przybilla down low after some deceptively nimble penetration. Przybilla gently hops up, lets gravity pull him down, leaves the ball in the back of the net as he descends. Camby checks back into the game, and the booing starts to sprinkle from the upper tiers. They're still really pissed about that 1st quarter-ender. Raymond Felton pulls a Crawford, rings up the 2. The crowd is lurching back towards life - at least until Chase Budinger catches a pass all alone in the corner and gets himself some more sweet, sweet three-action. 44-31, Rockets.
2:56 - a woman wearing Brandon Roy's jersey named Jessica just proposed to her boyfriend Elias on the jumbotron. He looked pretty surprised. She didn't. She got the yes, and the kiss, and the grin splitting her face was wide and confident.
2:24 - Dragic's speedy little ass inserts himself into a pretty dish from Felton to Aldridge - and then sprints that ass downcourt, splits the d, and kisses a layup off the glass. Jamal Crawford tries to do the same bit of nimble footwork on the other end: Assholes and elbows ensue. Luckily, Camby was the asshole with the elbows, and so the whistle blows and Camby gets his 3rd foul.
1:00 - With 5 seconds on the shotclock, Babbitt gets the ball from Aldridge behind the three. He doesn't even hesitate. YOU SEE WHAT HAPPENS, LARRY? YOU SEE WHAT HAPPENS? 47-38, Rockets.
:13.9 - Rockets let Chandler Parsons just dribble around like a spastic dipshit for the final play, and the Blazers let him get to within 3 feet of the hoop before converging on him, hacking him, and letting him get 2 free throws. Also - Chase Budinger? Chandler Parsons? It's like the Rockets are hoping that if this basketball thing doesn't work out, they could field a good fox-hunting party. Halftime: 49-40, Rockets.
Something I've never seen before: A fan, watching as the inflatable SUV drops gift certificates to something from the rafters. An envelope is discharged from the undercarriage of the SUV. This man, here with his kids, begins loudly shouting "I want it I want it I want it I want it" The whole way down. 30 seconds of prolonged chanting, with a single arm outstretched, opening and closing his hands in time to his mantra. It lands 30 feet away from him. He snaps out of his fugue state, smiles at his children, and sits down placidly.
11:40 - Raymond Felton starts off the 3rd quarter with a shaky looking three attempt that ends in an airball. The crowd bites back their boos. I can hear lips bleeding as the teeth dig into them. Next trip downcourt? Felton finds Matthews, who makes his way to the hoop rather easily after Przybilla scoops an arm around the waist of Scola and holds him like a beau might hold a door for his date. 49-42, Rockets
10:21 - Felton slides past Dragic, heads right at Camby. Looks over Camby's shoulder like "Whazzat?" Camby looks over there like "Wha-huh?" Felton continues to the hoop and scores the two. It's only when Felton finds Przybilla, Przybilla watches Scola go diving at the floor while slapping absently at the air (I don't know what he's doing, either) and Przybilla calmly deposits the ball in the hoop that Houston calls timeout. 49-47, Rockets.
9:09 - Felton tries his long-range jumper thing again. This time, he scoots in a couple feet before letting fly. It makes the difference - and he ties up the game. Chandler Parsons tries to squeak his ass into the paint. The shot he puts up gets slapped in the face by Przybilla. Felton crosses up Dragic, finds Joel down low. Joel's layup travels 3 inches from his fingers to the underside of the rim. I don't know how he does that so often. Scola gets the basket on the other end. 51-49, Rockets.
7:38 - Felton is going to cough up the ball about 4 times a game on average. It's just going to happen. It doesn't help that Dragic keeps buzzing around his knees like a mosquito wearing stick-um, though. He goes coast to coast. 53-51, Rockets.
6:40 - Hickson goes at Scola. I don't know who is going to detonate in a pile of limbs first. It turns out neither - the ball is kicked out to Matthews, who clangs a midrange jumper. The Rockets find Courtney Lee wide open for three on the other end. Canales calls time-out, hopefully to stop the Blazers from feeling the growing frustration permeating the building. 56-53, Rockets
5:27 - Scola just tried playing tough with LaMarcus Aldridge. One bump. Two Bump. Three Bump, and everyone sees the spin move coming. Aldridge swats the ball out of his hands and doesn't even regard his victim with so much as a look. He just sneers at the ref and stomps downcourt like "You gonna let this big-head greasy-ass flopper just smash up against me like that?" However - his annoyance takes him out of the next two plays, both scores for the Rockets. Aldridge wakes up on the other end, sinks a long two like it's nothing, but Dragic is feeling himself, and would like to make it 2 weeks in a row as the Western Conference player of the week. 63-57, Rockets.
3:20 - After another Courtney Lee jumper, Raymond Felton crosses up Dragic again, and gets to the dotted line before spinning and leaving Aldridge set up for yet another 20 footer, which rains through the net oh-so-smooth. But Dragic is relentless, drains another three. Hickson's time to shine. Scola lofts a little lay-up. Hickson comes running in from like 15 feet out, jumps off both feet, smacks the living hell out of it about a half-foot above the rim. It's kinda electrifying, no lie. 68-63, Rockets.
2:07 - Wesley Matthews tries to explain his latest foul on Kyle Lowry to the refs like so: "When I'm running, he dips his shoulder and bangs into me." I can't see what the ref said, but I gotta imagine it's something like "Oh. Okay. Well, when you're running, you also jump inexplicably, and smash your chest into his side right in front of me, so I kinda gotta call that."
1:08 - Nolan Smith is gonna get himself a reputation if he ain't careful. Chase Budinger finds himself pretty much all alone, heading towards the hoop. Tiny ass Nolan Smith not only puts himself directly between Budinger and the hoop, he lifts one arm, grabs Budinger's arm, and yanks down so hard that Budinger's head finds the bottom of the basket support at about 15 mph. After a minute, Budinger gets up, shakes it off, misses the first, hits the 2nd. J.J Hickson goes right at Patterson, spins, fades, drains. 69-65, Rockets.
:3.8 - Chase Budinger bails out Nolan Smith and his crappy plan for the last shot of the quarter, which plays like "Dribble with a scared look on your face, head for the sideline and hope something happens." What happens is Budinger hits J.J. Hickson and gets whistled. Hickson gets the last shot, but it rims. The crowd is disappointed until three men in inflatable giant cat suits start dancing to Party Rock Anthem, and then all is forgiven & forgotten. 71-65, Rockets.
11:10 - The Blazers shot 20% from three last quarter, and haven't shot at 40% ALL GAME LONG. Need more high percentage shots like the dunk Przybilla just put down. Meanwhile, the Rockets shot 62.5% from three last quarter, and Kyle Lowry just barely missed adding to that percentage by about a foot. 75-67, Rockets.
10:13 - Babbitt ends up with the ball on the three. DOUBLE CLUTCHES. Because that's always a great offensive move from 27 feet out. He drives on Kyle Lowry. Lowry and Scola both get their mitts on the ball because Babbitt driving looks like Batman trying to get rid of a bomb. Scola gets the foul, but Lowry spends the next three straight minutes fucking coming UNHINGED over the call. They call a delay of game on him for freaking out. The team is distracted enough that they commit a turnover, and Crawford goes straight at the hoop, gets fouled, gets both his free throws. 75-70, Rockets.
9:35 - Dragic gets an and-one, capitalizes, goes right at the hoop again after a shitty shot choice from Jamal Crawford on the other end. Crawford shouldn't really be the focal point of the offense when the team's within 7 in the fourth quarter, not when Aldridge is pissed off and looking to prove something. And yet, here we are - Dragic at the hoop, missing, but Scola scoring on the putback: 80-70, Rockets
During the timeout, the cameraguys finally put Clifford Robinson on the jumbotron: Mike Acker of Rip City Project spotted him at halftime. The ovation is slow, but it swells, and by the time the camera leaves his stern visage, the crowd is roaring. I miss Cliff. He never really got his due in Portland. He was appreciated, but he always seems to be forgotten when people talk about Blazers of days gone by. While I've been reminiscing, Chase Budinger got a breakaway dunk, and Jamal Crawford banged home a long three. The crowd is very much alive, but we're still down nine and playing real shitty. Kyle Lowry shuts Portland up with a jumper. 84-73, Rockets.
6:50 - it's one thing to watch Jamal Crawford fuck up a possession by going for 15 crossovers too many, it's another for that turnover to end in a Chase Budinger alley-oop. It's like watching Thurston Howell III put his nuts on your chest. Ugh. 86-73, Rockets.
4:57 - the crowd is so deflated they can't even pop chub for Luis Scola missing a wide open 10 footer. But they jerk back to life when Raymond Felton hits a three in the face of Chandler Parsons running at him. Houston calls a timeout after a sideline altercation leaves Wesley Matthews and Goran Dragic jawing at each other. 88-78, Rockets.
4:13 - Wesley Matthews comes curling around Dragic, finds Crawford in the corner. He goes around Budinger, waits for Dragic to move in on him, lofts the runner. It drops on both of them. Budinger clanges his three on the other end, Matthews finds Crawford again - this time he gives to Hickson, who awkwardly pump-fakes nobody, and then misses a shot. Scola misses on the other side (they're cheering these again. It's good.) and Aldridge goes right at Scola on the other end, actually turning and headbutting his chest twice before going up. All that noggin knocking goofs his aim - he misses from three feet out. And suddenly, we're back to the first quarter, with the baskets giving up less action than a nunnery. When timeout is called with 1:46 left to go, the score is 88-80. The lower bowl becomes the lower colander, as fans start leaking out of the building.
1:16 - all hope for a win tonight just gently rolled off the lip of the rim, along with the 2 putback attempts J.J. Hickson had after Jamal Crawfords layup dawdled out of the hoop. The bottom of the bowl just fell out, and everyone is bailing after Luis Scola capitalizes on the dejection at the other end like some sort of sluggish, stringy parasite, feeding on sorrow and frustration. 90-81, Rockets.
38.2 - Jamal Crawford just got an and-one, bringing the Blazers to within six, but then the Blazers D just let Dragic run around in 15 ever-tightening concentric circles until the shotclock dropped to within 10. Chandler Parsons jacks up an ill advised three, it spangs off the back of the rim - right into the hands of Luis Scola, who once again capitalizes on the pain of Portland fans. People are coming back into the lower bowl just so they can walk out on the game again. 92-84, Rockets.
6.8 - LaMarcus Aldridge just drained a three. The Blazers immediately foul Kyle Lowry, and then foul him again because they were somehow not in the penalty. He hits em both. Canales calls timeout again because he still maintains his youthful optimism. They come out of the timeout with Babbitt holding the ball. He airballs a layup, Crawford gets the putback, and whoever's left in the building starts their commute home from their seat. FINAL: 94-89, Rockets.