Things are getting ugly for the Portland Trail Blazers as they continue their slide into the abyss known as the NBA lottery. Start jumping off the bandwagon, if you were ever on it. Do something, because it only gets worse from here on out.
The Blazers played Wednesday night without Zach Randolph for the fourth consecutive game and suffered a 101-107 loss to Lebron James and the Cavaliers at the Rose Garden.
James must have been inspired to be so close to Nike Headquarters in Beaverton and the source of his billion-dollar shoe contract because he played lights out and recorded his first career triple double with 27 points, 11 boards and 10 assists. He had four steals to go along with his big night and hit a key three to kill the Blazers’ momentum as Portland had crept to within eight at 87-95 with 3:33 to go.
Losing is nothing new to this year’s team. Wednesday’s loss is the Blazers’ fifth in a row and lowered their record to an embarrassing 15-23. Only the very worst, pathetic teams such as Atlanta, New Orleans, and the expansion Charlotte Bobcats are below them in the standings now. They have only won three of their last 15 games and none against a team with a winning record.
The Blazers do have some excuses. For all the flak the Blazers’ big bruiser Zach Randolph gets for being a complete idiot (which sadly he is), Z-Bo is still a key ingredient to any sort of Portland success. The 6-9 forward is out for the time being with a deep contusion on his right knee and is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Randolph’s ability to dominate in the post and gobble up offensive rebounds is sorely missed, and despite James Thomas’ 15 boards against the Cavs, the former Roanoke Dazzle forward only managed six points on 2-6 shooting.
However, even with Randolph back the Blazers are still missing their other two forwards, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Darius Miles. Abdur-Rahim is expected to be out at least another month after elbow surgery and has not played since a Jan. 2 contest versus the Phoenix Suns. Though he was effective in that game, recording a double double of 14 points and 10 rebounds, the pain was too much and he elected for surgery.
Darius Miles’ bruised left knee kept him out of his seventh consecutive game. The Blazers miss the lanky forward’s ability to defend in the open court and create his own shot on offense. Miles is averaging 12.6 points and 5.1 rebounds plus more than a steal and a block a game. His numbers increase to 16 and 7 in the ten games he has started this season. Miles is expected back no sooner than Saturday night, though it is unlikely he will return until sometime next week.
Through all the injuries and misfortune, the team is playing extremely hard despite the losses. The guard combo of returning starter Damon Stoudamire and Nick Van Exel is working well. Recently Stoudamire went off for a franchise record 54 points in a loss to New Orleans. He is averaging 27.6 points and 6 assists in the last five games and passed Darius Miles as the third leading scorer on the season with 13.3 a game.
Nick Van Exel, who is retiring at the end of this season, is also in the midst of one of the greatest stretches of his career. Over the last five games Van Exel is averaging 23.8 points and 7 assists and is shooting 53 percent from beyond the arc. Often the voice of reason, Van Exel is one of the few players holding this team together. Comparisons to what Scottie Pippen was to the team a few years ago are not outrageous.
Big man Joel Przybilla, the Blazers’ newly minted 7-1 starting center, had a breakout game against the Sacramento Kings. He pulled down a dominating 22 boards and scored 17 points in the Tuesday 107-113 OT loss at ARCO Arena. Przybilla followed that game up with 13 point, 5 rebound effort Wednesday night versus the Cavs. As Theo Ratliff slowly fades from favor due to his ongoing feud with head coach Maurice Cheeks, Przybilla has stepped in to play very well. If the Blazers can continue to play hard once they get their trio of star forwards back and healthy, perhaps this team has a chance to compete. If not, this team is on its way to a high lottery pick and another long summer of rebuilding.