Hello, Portland. It's me, Casey. I'll be here all week, keeping track of the newly shuffled Blazers, who are 3-and-3 in the post-Nate era. Neither tanking nor embarking on an inspired comeback run, the Blazers are, as they have been for most of the season, stuck in the middle like Jimmy Eat World. The lower middle. Tonight they hope for a small miracle against the Oklahoma City Thunder, whom they beat on the road early in the season. The mood behind the scenes is relaxed and fraternal. Whetehr that is the calm before the storm or calm before the shitstorm, we're about to find out.
Nic Batum attempts to start things off with an alley-oop to LaMarcus Aldridge. He is thwarted by Thunder hands. No Ray Felton tonight, remember, so we may see a downtick in succesful assists. Unless Nolan Smith (I ALWAYS want to call him Nolan Ryan) steps up in that department. Lord knows he has go-go-gadget arms that look long enough to just gingerly hand the ball from the three-point-line to the post.
A little chippy stuff happening already in the paint after the Thunder take it to their end. In the breezeway by the visiting locker room earlier, Kendrick Perkins elbowed me in the belly. I don't think it was on purpose, he's just a wide man and I apparently was not sucking it in far enough. Just that little brush kind of took the wind out of me. I really can't imagine actually playing basketball against the guy. I would last approximately 6 seconds in trying to defend him or back him down. Then I would collapse, crying, my manhood lost forever.
Speaking of lost manhood, Joel's dunk just got checked...by the rim. He's laughing it off out there. Yikes. Have we seen him dunk this season? Can he still dunk?
Russell Westbrook gets his first basket to go with his two assists. OKC up 8-3. Not great.
LaMarcus can dunk!
My favorite un-ironic sign lady is at it again: "Batum: He's a Keeper!" I hate it so much that I love it.
We left last game with a question: Could the Blazers keep connecting on enough three-pointers to have more games like the one they had against the Warriors? And could they defend the three on the other end? The Blazers just hit two triples in a row and the Thunder haven't hit any just yet. It's a promising sign, even with the Zers down four. Keep yer eyes on that one.
In comes James TV-on-the-Radio-head Harden to keep annoyingly close tabs on Wes Matthews and to challenge that nice Blazer three-point balance.
Derek Fisher gets extra boos for the Thunder. We never forget Lakers around here.
The Blazer three-point shooting has gone bone dry, and OKC keeps taking smart shots. They're shooting 66 percent to Portland's (oh my god) 22 percent. Zers still hit a third of their threes, but the wide-open looks they are missing are pretty discouraging. Usually you can chalk a low field goal percentage up to OKC's great defense, but no, these were mostly just real tough missed shots.
Finally, Nic Batum hits a jumper, but the Blazers are crashing and burning here early. Currently down 12 to the Thunder and looking sort of accidental on offense. They hold for the last shot, and it's Jamal Crawfordâwho has yet to put a statistic on the boardâmissing a runner.
Things are starting to go a little better on offenseâthe Blazers are up to 32 percent, which means they've been shooting considerably higher than thatâbut the Thunder are literally getting everything they want on the other end, too. I don't know how the Blazers are going to be able to crack down. Frankly, Jonny Flynn is not who I think of when I think of guard defense...
The Thunder's rotations are AMAZING. The Blazers just went around the horn, and the Thunder defenders were one step ahead ON EVERY STEP. You don't see too many teams with that kind of discipline.
Whoo! Jonny Flynn alley-oop to LaMarcus Aldridge, and you could see his lips mouthing a "COME ON!" after the dunk. Then the biggest smile I've seen in the NBA for quite some time. Think he's got something to prove out there? Because I do think he has something to prove out there. I actually shouldn't even ask you that question because I don't really care what you say the answer is. I think the answer is "hell yes I have something to prove."
Luke Babbitt with the nice round of applause. James Harden with the nice three.
JJ Hickson proving a nice commodity in the paint. The truth is that almost no Trail Blazers are taking the ball to the hole, including, for the most part, LaMarcus Aldridge. I'm not sure if JJ Hickson clears up the middle, but if he's the only dude taking the ball strong to the hoop, I guess that's where he belongs.
On COMMAND LaMarc hits the paint.
Blazers sticking around, but they can't get stops. Crowd was dying for a travel on that last playâas was a way-too-polite Caleb Kanales, who sort of bartered with the refs on the point. He's too nice, that kid! Blazers still down 15, which is not bad against a team shooting a whopping 64 percent.
That one was supremely ugly. Nolan Smith drops the inbound pass for no reason and with no pressure--just a goof. He may be a starter, but he's gotta get starting something.
The Thunder lead balloons to 21 points. Gonna be a depressed halftime locker room at this pace.
Who here is willing to take the ball to the basket and get hit? That's where you miss a guy like Gerald Wallace. No one on this teamâsave for perhaps Felton, who's out tonightâseems ready to throw their body into a post defender and see what happens.
Every time something promising happens out there, something Durant-y happens. It remains a 20-point Thunder lead. The most interesting stretch in the game came with Jonny Flynn at point guard, so let's see if Coach K throws him in early.
Nope. And Smith rewards coach's patience with a nice dish to a baseline-cutting Nic Batum. OKAY, IT'S A TWO-POINT BLAZER RUN! AGAIN!
It's a four-point Blazer run, and they've got the ball again. The defense is definitely a touch stepped up. And somebody turned up the Batum, too. Blazers cut it to 13.
Oh, MAN! The whole building just got worked into a frenzy and then left dangling. It was a like a bad handjob. Nic Batum with the steal and the full-court bolt and the behind the back dribble and thenâUNGH!!!!âhe is met at the rim by two large men in blue. They all sort of crumpled back to earth together in a big ball of arms and legs, but no foul. Blazer fans not stoked.
Blazers look like a ball club. Weird, where did that come from. Also, it's nice of the Thunder to keep getting three-second violations.
The place is as loud as it has been since the trade deadline. Very nice reaction to what I'm pretty sure was a 14-2 Portland run.
Missed, reasonably open shot from Kevin Durant, who doesn't miss a lot, really. I'm waiting for him and Westbrook to explode, but the duo is having tough times at the moment. It has slightly less to do with the Blazers' defense than it does with them being a bit of, but the Blazers will take it. It's a very loud, very engaged crowd here at the Rose Garden. Nice to hear this late in what will likely be referred to by historians as "the lost season." When the Blazers run and hustle, they get a lotta love in the RG.
Mr. Westbrook is coming on strong, though. Look out.
I hate to say it, but that goofy layup is the reason no one in Minnesota looks back fondly on the Jonny Flynn era.
I'm not sure it's a good idea to show the ex-Duck on the big screen right after the military guy. The Duck is always going to steal a bit of thunder, right?
Wes Matthews getting what we in the business call "bounces."
Jonny Flynn having a very tough time with Russell Westbrook. As does everyone. Seven point game. Ugh, make it a nine-to-ten point game after that Westbrook magic. That kid is pretty good. A little mouthy, maybe, but good.
If it seems like I'm only talking about Jonny Flynn, that's because he's the guy making all the moves, for better or worse. A lotta worse at the moment, as he puts Thunder players on the line and goes 1-for-2 at the line. You just wanna tell that guy to breathe.
I wouldn't say that the Blazers "whittled it down" to nine points, but they did sort of waltz it to nine. That's pretty good. Good money would be on the Thunder to take this, but as the man says, "the Rose Garden is Our House."
There's JJ again, taking it strong to the rim. Unfortunately, free-throws are not really in his wheelhouse. The deficit remains nine points.
You've got to hand it to Derek Fisher, the man knows how to take a charge. He's had more men knock him over than your average bowling pin. (There's a dirtier version of that line, just use your imagination a bit and write it in the comments section below.)
The Hick: Getting it done, then undoing it.
YES! NAME THAT TUNE!
Kurt Thomas on Willow Smith: "It's a young, young lady. I don't know her name."
"Welcome Back Joel Go Blazers Win Win"
Well folks, it's an 11-point game, which means the Zers haven't hemorrhaged much since the break. But Nolan Smith seems to take time to get into the flow every time he enters the game, and he's just entered. Jonny Flynn, kinda weirdly, is already on the sidelines waiting to check in. I wondered for a moment if coach K was going with a double-PG lineup, but he's just making the call. Flynn seems like a defensive liability to me, but he has got the team passing and moving on offense.
It looks like he just sprained an ankle. Great.
No? Just a stinger? The Blazers' coaching staff isn't asking and Flynn is not volunteering any information, so he's in for now. This team needs to make some baskets, though. Total drought the last few minutes.
Threes stopped raining, LaMarcus stopped bossing, Flynn stopped running things. All the gears screeched to a halt together.
So this will go in the books as another absolutely awful game for Jamal Crawford. Somebody explain to me why he has been so terrible?
Oooh, chippies between LaMarcus and big Perk. That's a fight I'd pay to see.
Flynn continues to do some nice things on offense and the Blazers continue to look disorganized and ill-equipped to handle distance shooters on defense. There's just no stopping these guys, who are still shooting at 60 percent to the Blazers 43, which has now just become the story of this team, sadly.
Russell Westbrook just cleared the arena with back-to-back shots. Goodbye, folks. Goodbye, lingering playoff hopes.
Thabeet checks in. Blazers playing both Flynn and Smith at the guard positions while Thabeet, Hickson and Babbitt round out the roster. WHO ARE THESE GUYS!?!?!?!?!
I'm trying to figure out why the crowd is so excited, and it's either because the Blazers are nearing chalupa territory or because JJ Hickson is still treating it like a game. Anyway, Blazers lose. See you in two days.
P.S. Do we have to have that conversation about LaMarcus Aldridge fading down the stretch again?