Game report: Warriors 120, Blazers 98
A season full of promise and hope, but noticeably devoid of wins, ended with a loud thud last night as the Portland Trail Blazers were routed at home by the Golden State Warriors, 120-98. The Warriors went up something like 17-4 in the first quarter and never looked back. The Rose Garden crowd was enthusiastic all night, and it let out quite a roar when the Blazers narrowed the gap to 12 points in the fourth quarter. But that was a Dave Letterman- or Johnny Carson-type crowd, cheering mindlessly at just about anything. Truth be told, it was a pretty crummy game all the way through.
As of a week ago, we thought that our season at the Blazer games was over, but pleasant surprises happen to us all the time, and one of our patrons dropped some prime tickets on us over the weekend. And so we were on hand for this one as a bonus game. I greatly enjoyed the experience, as I have throughout the season, but by the end of the night, something about it struck a note of fear in my heart.
To say that the Blazers were short-handed would be an understatement. Only nine players were in uniform, instead of the usual 12. Except for Jarrett Jack (solid but no star), the lineup was devoid of anyone who should be starting a game on an NBA team. It was a second- and third-string Portland squad against a team that was fighting for, and last night won itself, a spot in the upcoming playoffs. With its victory in the Rose City, Golden State secured a berth in the first round of the league's championship tournament. (But since the Clippers lost at home to New Orleans last night, the Warriors would have advanced to the playoffs even if they had lost to the Blazers.)
For some reason, the Warriors are just about the ugliest team in the league to watch. Against the Blazers, they had two weapons -- the outside shot and the cheap fast break. They showed early on that they would burn Portland badly if Portland didn't get back quickly on defense. And you know what? Portland never did get back, and it got burned time and again. The crowd was too polite; in any other city, and even in Portland a year ago, they would have booed.
There were other alarming signs as well. No one on the Blazers seemed capable of scoring a basket except Travis Outlaw, a streaky (a.k.a. inconsistent) force who last night had a career-high 36 points in the losing effort. He made all 16 of his foul shots, which is quite impressive. But the rest of the team stood around a lot, watching the clock tick away, and they shot poorly. Dan Dickau played 31 minutes -- that just about says it all for the home team's chances -- and he made just 4 of the 13 shots he jocked up. He dished out eight assists, but he's just too small for the NBA. Martell Webster continued to muddle along, neither a true inside player nor a true outside shooter. Of the five shots he made (all of them two-pointers), the more impressive ones were when he was breaking to the hoop. When he parks himself at the 3-point line, he's ineffective. He'll probably hear it the rest of his life: Should have gone to college.
Raef LaFrentz was out on the floor for 15 minutes, accomplishing little. Raef is the one they talk about in the Bible where it says, "Blessed are they who expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed." Freddy Jones and Sergio Rodriguez turned in B to B-minus performances; sparkling they weren't. Nobody in a white uniform played enough defense. Jamaal Magloire gave up 24 points to Al Harrington. Jason Richardson and Steven Jackson combined for another 56. Even Baron Davis, who will begin collecting Social Security this summer, had a triple-double before they wheeled him back out to the bus. Golden State is like a poor man's Phoenix Suns team -- run and gun, baby, under coach Don Nelson. The Blazers knew what the Warriors were going to do, and they were defenseless against it.
OK, another short-handed loss at the very end of the season -- that alone shouldn't give you the willies. But there were other strange vibrations around the arena that were scary enough to suck some of the wind out of the sails of my optimism for the future of the Blazers. Part of it had to do with the organization's wicked obsession with the past. Throughout the game, they staged a big 30-year reunion of the Blazers' only championship team, during which they retired the jersey of one of the players on that team, Lionel Hollins. Most (but not all) of the Trail Blazers from the era were on hand, including then-coach Dr. Jack Ramsay, a true legend. (Bill Walton was working as an announcer elsewhere and didn't make it.)
The big championship was won the year before I arrived in Portland, and I'm as big a fan of those players as most folks in these parts are. It was great to see Ramsay still alive and kicking. But for some reason the whole event seemed woefully flat. Part of me thinks it's time for the current organization to give the 1977 Blazers a rest. It was a different era, a different building, a different league, really a different world. Most of the folks in attendance last night probably don't remember it -- so many of them weren't even born when it happened. Only two of the current players were alive at the time. The show was just a bunch of old guys in suits, and some grainy film clips. If anything, it reminded everyone how long it's been since the Blazers were any good, much less great. And what's so special about a 30-year anniversary? Didn't they just do this at 25 years? Are they going to do another cheesy tribute every five years hence, until the last member of the team is dead?
If they held five-year reunions of every championship team in places like Boston or Los Angeles, there'd be multiple events each year. And if they retired the numbers of six guys from every team that took the title, those other cities would be down to having their point guards wear number 73.
Another problem: The Rose Garden had the p.a. system cranked up to the pain threshold for the occasion. I haven't been bothered by the decibel level in the place for quite a while, but last night I was. On most nights when they make it too loud, it's supposed to pound into you (literally) the fact that you paid $100 to get in here, and that beer in your lap was another eight bucks, so this must be really exciting. Last night it seemed like it was more to help the guests of honor hear what was being said without having to turn up their hearing aids.
Some of the supreme dorkiness of Portland resurfaces at events such as this. The Blazer Dancers -- whose devolution has lately rendered them a bizarre spectacle, something that Paula Abdul might put together in her most buzzed moments -- sponsored their own reunion. Dozens of ex-Blazer Dancers donned mostly unflattering attire and joined this year's crew in performing several massive train wrecks. (They also announced current dancer Marlene's retirement after 10 years -- one of the more attractive and talented crew members, she'll be missed.)
The vivid reminder-by-contrast of how long it's been since the Blazers were any good was disheartening, and the leftover midriffs from the disco era caused me to avert my eyes, but they were not the most disturbing aspect of the night -- not by a longshot. No, that distinction goes to a horrible, horrible sight: Darius Miles was back sitting on the bench. As part of the nostalgic hoopla and to mark the end of the season, all of the current Blazer players were on hand, including those who are sidelined due to injuries, real and imagined. At the start of the game, each player on the entire roster was introduced, and came down to the floor out of the stands, passing through one of the same portals that the fans do. Down they came, one by one: LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, Zach Randolph, Ime Udoka.
And Darius Miles.
Darius Miles -- cancer of the team! Looking as spaced out as ever. Sitting on the bench next to Zach, who showed up in his best gangster costume -- shirt out, pants five sizes too big, etc.
And it gets worse. At the end of the night, they passed out yearbooks, and who's among the players profiled? Yep, a nice little spread on Darius Miles. Darius Miles!
Memo to Kevin Pritchard, Blazers general manager: You're trying to get people to buy season tickets for next year, right? You made a little boo-boo there, buddy. What you need to do is to pay Darius Miles enough money that he stays a minimum of 500 miles away from the Rose Garden. You put him on that bench, let them sit there all night, and you may as well strap a sandwich board sign on Nate McMillan that says, "Maybe you should hold on to that thousand dollars in ticket money for a couple more years."
As for the players' respect for the fans and the honored alumni, it apparently did not extend to the entire two and a half hours of the lame contest being played out on the court. Most of the players not in uniform were gone by halftime. LaMarcus left the bench after the first quarter. I think Darius stuck around until the end; he probably had nowhere else to go. But by 9:00 Zach was long gone, probably socializing with... shall we say, women who are not as accomplished as the Rutgers basketball team.
And owner Paul Allen's nowhere to be seen, of course. He's probably off on one of his yachts, skimming krugerrands across the surface of the Mediterranean, figuring out how to screw up the roster some more, and plotting the move of the franchise to Seattle.
What a fright night. Hideous play, a strange program, a fixation on the past, Zach's pants, and two hours of looking at Darius Miles. I loved the Blazers this year, and I'm still hopeful for the future, but when I left the arena, I headed straight to the car, and I didn't look back lest I be turned into a pillar of salt. Things might be better next year. But don't bet on it.
On with the blurry photos. Readers will be relieved to know that my camera has gotten so bad that the flash has given out. By next basketball season, it will probably be gone in favor of something better.
The original banners still hang over one of the entryways:
The arena staff, and even the players, wore a special t-shirt:
Here's Lionel Hollins, and Bill Schonely with Maurice Lucas:
If you've been wondering what's standing between current Blazer coach Nate McMillan and the greatness of former Blazer coach Jack Ramsay, look no further:
Behind Dr. Jack, that's Bobby Gross, Dave Twardzik, and Larry Steele. In their honor, Zach goes with the traditional look:
Martell Webster at the foul line:
The view down the sideline. That's Raef LaFrentz down at the bottom, wondering about his hedge fund accounts. Up top, Warriors coach Don Nelson hasn't lost his lust for life:
Dr. Jack addresses the crowd at halftime:
Sergio Rodriguez makes a move:
Here's Jamaal Magloire, doubtlessly in one of his last moments as a Blazer: