The most exciting Blazers team of the last five years could not contain the white hot Phoenix Suns in Sunday’s game at the Rose Garden, losing 119-101.
The Trailblazers faithful, draped in black, red and white, waited deep into the fourth quarter for the comeback they have come to expect. Led by two-time MVP Steve Nash, the Suns’ run-and-gun offense proved too much to handle for the Blazers’ young squad.
Nash torched the Blazers defense. From alley-oops to perfect pick-and-rolls, the Suns’ offense looked in synch. Nash finished the game with 23 points and 10 assists. All of Phoenix’s starters had more then 15 points, including Raja Bell, who had a game-high 30 points. The Blazers defense looked confused and frustrated at one another as they dropped another game to a strong Western Conference team after Saturday’s loss to the Sacramento Kings.
"Some teams in this league, we aren’t ready for. That’s a good team, that is a team that the league is picking to win a championship some day. Sacramento is a very good team. Both teams showed us that we’re not ready for those types of teams," said Blazers head coach Nate McMillan.
On the offensive side of the ball, however, six Blazers finished in double digits. Travis Outlaw led the team with a career-high 22 points and looked outstanding. The power forward drafted out of high school three years ago has been developing slower than most Portland fans were hoping.
Blessed with freakish leaping ability and good driving force, Outlaw’s game was expected to stay very close to the hoop when he was drafted. However, he has developed a reliable 15-foot jumper that he utilizes well even in traffic.
Zach Randolph had an off game, netting only 18 points and nine rebounds for Portland. He seemed frustrated with the game and sat for most of the fourth quarter. McMillan said Randolph was sitting because they wanted to go with a different unit.
“We don’t have a veteran all-star or two on the roster that can give [the team] that sense that everything is going to be all right out on the floor. I think Zach is trying to learn to become that, but other than that, this still is a work in progress," McMillan said.
The Blazers’ work in progress has surprised the NBA with their unexpected early success. With their season record at 6-9 the Blazers are by no means the worst team in the league. They fight hard, play hard and leave their hearts on their sleeves.
"I think the main thing right now is trying to keep these guys believing that they play together and they play hard,” McMillan said. “That’s the consistency we’ve been talking about. Playing hard, they’ll have a chance.”