Game report: Blazers 95, Jazz 105
Our best benefactor blessed us with excellent Blazer tickets again last night, and so we headed out to see the Portland squad do battle with the Utah Jazz. It was fun to watch for about two hours, but then the Blazers beat themselves, badly.
Portland was playing without its sole all-star, LaMarcus Aldridge, whose ankle is messed up. If there was something significant on the line, he probably would have suited up, but the Blazers' playoff hopes were already pretty much over. And so Portland had to get some big minutes out of rookie center Meyers Leonard, and an unusual amount of support from the marginal British big man Joel Freeland.
The Blazers took command early on and looked comfortable throughout the first half; at halftime, they were up 10. But Utah kept hanging around, and they made things marginally interesting in the third quarter. Then, in the last four minutes of the game, the Blazers completely fell apart. They turned the ball over on something like five possessions out of seven, missing two shots and not getting the rebounds in between. With 3:49 left in the game, the Blazers led 92-86. Utah scored the next 15 points. Paul Millsap and Mo Williams took Portland to school.
Apart from having no Aldridge, it was a pretty standard 2012-2013 Blazers performance statistically. J.J. Hickson had his double-double, Damian Lillard scored 24 and had seven assists, Nicolas Batum 17 and four. Wessy Wes Mathews contributed only 12 points, but three came on an exciting buzzer-beater to end the first period. Reserve Victor Claver provided a little show time, but he missed all three of his three-point shots.
We're starting to get the feeling that Meyers Leonard may not amount to much in the NBA. He played 30-plus minutes last night and looked lost most of the time. To make matters worse, he pouted nearly every time things didn't go his way -- especially when he himself screwed up, which happened several times. His body language screams a lack of confidence. Experienced pro players like Millsap and Jazz big man Al Jefferson get stronger and stronger as a guy like Leonard's expression becomes more and more frightened.
Worst of all, the rest of the Blazers may have lost the desire to participate in the long Leonard learning curve. After several blunders by the first-year big man, Lillard, Matthews, and Batum all looked mildly displeased to have to deal with him. If this were October or November, we'd chalk it up to rookie jitters. But we're down to the last month of the season, and the big kid's still not ready for prime time. We're not sure whether he needs D-League seasoning, a trade, or both, or what.
The officiating was pretty miserable, and the Blazers didn't cope with it. Lillard seemed particularly distracted by the ridiculous calls and noncalls. He had a point, but there was a close game on the line. When he didn't get the foul call on his blocked shot on the last Portland offensive play of the game, Lillard stopped playing the last 12 seconds and gave a final gesture of disgust, which seemed a little unprofessional.
The silver lining in this loss was the fact that Utah's win propelled them ahead of the Lakers for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. Anything that knocks the Lakers down is a plus in our book. The Blazers play Utah once more on Monday, in Salt Lake City. Given that Portland's season is essentially over, we may find ourself reluctantly pulling for the Jazz in that one.
Despite the unfavorable outcome on the court, we had a marvelous time -- four quality hours with our younger daughter. We even got on TV, goofing around in the background on the post-game show. There is nothing better than time spent with the Mrs. and the girls. And nothing comes close.
Thanks to everyone who has graciously given us seats at Blazer games and enabled these game reports over the years. We've enjoyed every opportunity.
And now, the customary blurry cell phone photos. Here's Claver putting up a failed three right before the wheels came off. The Blazers were up by nine points at the time:
Here's Hickson coming off the floor to teammate congratulations, with Aldridge in his street clothes in the foreground:
Lillard never looks happy on the court, but he was particularly peeved toward the end of this loss. Here he is shooting foul shots with the Blazers down nine and 33 seconds to go in the game. He made one of two:
And another season is effectively over. The Blazers can still affect the playoff picture, but they aren't in it. Tough result for Matthews, whose legs took a beating in this campaign: