It's an honor and a privilege to resume my Blazer blogging in the wake of Aaron Mesh, one of the finest voices of his generation. ---Also, it's just a relief to be back here at the Rose Garden, in this sweet-ass seat, surrounded by friends and colleagues (the latter may be wishful thinking on my behalf), pumped-up Blazer fans, retirees with spare time and the very clever public address crew who decided to play the theme song from Dallas in introducing the Mavs. It's great company, to be sure, and I wouldn't be anywhere else in the world tonight but right here—back after a long hiatus—to watch this game.
Did you know that they introduce the referees before every game? It's a hard thing to catch, beause it comes right after lots of Blazer-cheering and cheerleader dancing and all that. I heard a few people boo the refs just now. I didn't see anyone clap. Tough gig, being a ref.
Who among you thinks that Brandon Roy should be starting again? I'm really curious about that. Someone has to be pushing for Roy as a starter. Lotta number 7s out here tonight.
LaMarcus Aldridge kicks things off with a turnaround jumpshot. It's good. Someone off to my side calls him "baby." I've never been entirely comfortable with calling athletes "baby," or calling anyone "baby," actually. Even when I call my girlfriend "baby" there's usually a trace of sarcasm: I'm usually impersonating someone else. "Big Baby," however, is a nickname I've grown very fond of. I don't love Glen Davis, but I love his nickname. I'll call him "Big Baby" all day.
It has felt to me, in recent games, like LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace have become interchangeable with their roles on the team. Either man can (and does) post up on a regular basis, and either has shown some pretty solid passing skills. I think taking contact comes more naturally for Wallace, but even there, both players seem quite capable. One wonders if the sudden appearance of a stylistic doppelganger has made Aldridge uncomfortable at all. Especially when said twin has cooler hair and a lower voice than you.
Not trying to start shit, just saying.
Wallace steals and takes the ball coast-to-coast, finishing with a nice layup. Gotta love that. He might run the floor a bit better than big LaMarc...
The blue-against-white color scheme makes it easy to squint your eyes and watch the players as amorphous blobs. Why the hell would you want to do that? It helps you see the team the way coaches do: As five fingers on a hand or five branches on a tree or whatever hippie metaphor you want to use. You can see these guys as "offense" and "defense" when you distance yourself from their personalities a bit, and it's a fun way to watch the game. Easier to tell a zone from man-to-man or to notice the peripheral pieces of a pick-and-roll and where they go on the court. It's good fun.
Despite intermittent cheering for various Mavs, the crowd is absolutely silent when Peja Stojakovic checks in. What does that mean? That Peja is no longer viewed as a threat by the home fans or as a hero by the away fans? That would be kind of sad. I've seen Peja win games almost single-handedly and light the net on fire. He always did this cold-faced and emotionless. Which made it worse. Maybe, just maybe, he would stick his tongue out a touch at the end of the game, or high-five his teammates with a touch of excitement as he headed back to the bench. But for the most part, Peja—in the Kings years—was just a stone-cold killer.
Now he can't even elicit boos. And it says something about the way this league works. Veterans are honored in their first few declining years. Then they fade; Their faces blur and their numbers change and their contracts start to look poisonous. Fans forget them—it's almost as though the mind of the fan can only hold a limited number of basketball players in their hearts and in their memory. And so you become, like Peja is now, ghosts that run the court without fanfare and only occasionally materialize as the valued, memorable players they once were. Even the biggest of the big—think of that sad, half-Shaq giant in Boston—become an afterthought and leave the league quietly if they last long enough.
If you're lucky, you become the answer to some trivia question.
Blazers lead 23-17.
Peja with a buzzer-beating three. Quiet and emotionless, just like the old days.
Houston won, so the Blazers can't clinch a playoff spot just yet with a victory. Not that a victory is any kind of done deal. The Mavs look a bit out-of-sorts tonight and they're still only down five points. Mark Cuban, who sits next to the team's assistant coaches, looks like a lonely kid at a birthday party, yelling every once and awhile but mostly just sulking in his seat. He looks like a guy whose team has already lost, but there's a long way to go.
Brandon Roy hits a three. 30-23. Cuban looks the same. He's got a lot of sun this summer. Easy to do in Dallas, I guess.