The bold experiment that is the 2005 Portland Trail Blazers began in Minnesota on Wednesday night. And despite Darius Miles’ monster of a night (32 points, 11 boards, 5 assists, 5 steals), the Blazers eventually fell to Kevin Garnett’s Timberwolves 90-86. But don’t let the loss fool you. This team can compete. Moreover, they just might surprise a whole lot of people.
Buoyed by a Miles/Zach Randolph double-double offering, Portland more than held their own against Minnesota. The new-look Blazers, undoubtedly feeding off of the drive that coach Nate McMillan spent the entire pre-season trying to instill, came to play. And they played hard. And they played fast. At times, they were even able to sweep the court, thanks to spectacular efforts from rookie guard Jarrett Jack and Miles.
Furthermore, it was a game that the Blazers both could of and should have won. They were up 21-14 after the first quarter. They opened up that lead to 11 points mid-way through the second. Going into halftime they were only down by three. And throughout the third and fourth, Portland consistently kept the T-wolves off-guard, gasping for air. And the whole time, the Blazers’ novel mixture of youth, inexperience and serious potential were carried upon the shoulders of Darius Miles.
Miles, who openly declared that he was going to “punish” the Timberwolves prior to tip-off, did just that. In fact, as a result of his stellar night, he may have played himself into a new nickname: the Punisher. Miles was everywhere on the court, the entire evening, doing everything. 15 foot pull-ups, nasty slams, sly steals, effortless defensive rebounds and inspired put-backs – he did it all. In the fourth quarter, as the Blazers were watching a tight contest begin to slip away, it was Miles who single-handedly both kept Portland in the game and gave them an even shot to walk out of the Target Center with a victory.
Miles’ exuberant effort became contagious as well. After he had two consecutive brilliant steals and lay-ins, which trimmed the Timberwolves’ lead to a single point with less than a minute remaining, the entire Blazers bench erupted, rallying around him.
Thus, despite the loss, Miles’ performance was just what the doctor ordered. For as many questions as there are that are currently revolving around the Blazers as this NBA season begins, there is absolutely none bigger or more important than: who is the team leader?
There isn’t an easy or clear answer. But, what is known is that Portland needs somebody, anybody, to step up and take the reigns. Why not Darius?
Yes, it’s only one game. And, yes, Darius has done this before. He’s led us on, fooled us. Got us to thinking that his time had come and then disappeared just as quickly as he had arrived. But this time, it feels different. Against the Wolves, Darius was a madman, a one-man wrecking crew, a punisher. He was everything that the Blazers were hoping and crossing their fingers for when they got him. And it appears that he may be everything that the Blazers need to transform their novel experiment into sweet reality.
In the game, Portland made its fair share of mistakes. Sebastian Telfair and Jack at times looked over eager. Too many no or one pass shots were taken. The defense had collapses.
Wolves guard Ritchie Frahm was left unattended, allowing him to drill five three-pointers and total 18 points. But, all in all, the Blazers impressed. The talent is there. The hope is there. And now, with Miles taking on the role of the Punisher, the Blazers, finally, have a leader.