It’s happened so many times this season that it’s beginning to feel like the Blazers are stuck in some kind of bizarro-land. That, or it’s like watching a bad movie for hours, doing so with the nagging feeling that some of the scenes are starting to look really familiar. And then you realize that the tape is stuck – the images are just being looped.
Portland plays a good team, has a shot going into the fourth quarter to win it, and then just completely breaks down. It’s a familiar scenario and head coach Nate McMillan has seen it way too many times this year. He’s had enough.
“I’ll just get down to it,” McMillan said in an open-hearted post-game press conference. “We’re not playing with a sense of urgency. There hasn’t been a sense of urgency here for a while. We’ve got to show improvement. We’ve got to play harder and have a commitment. And the games that we have left don’t get any easier. We’re going up against teams that are pushing for the playoffs in the West. Teams that can’t afford to lose games. That’s the urgency that we need and that we don’t understand.”
The Blazers 88-75 loss to the New Orleans-Oklahoma City Hornets spelled out McMillan’s frustration in all caps. Despite going into the final period tied with the Hornets at 61, Portland only managed 14 points in the fourth quarter. Moreover, the Blazers had a series of defensive lapses that allowed the Hornets’ Rasual Butler to cut a hole right into Portland’s heart. Butler had 8 of his 13 points in the fourth, including two three-pointers that put the Blazers in the grave.
And when it wasn’t Butler doing the damage, it was the Hornet’s point-guard rookie sensation, Chris Paul. Paul, who had 19 points, five rebounds and eight assists on the night, at times appeared to do what he wanted, when he wanted on the court.
“We just didn’t have any commitment on the defensive end of the floor,” said Martell Webster. “Those last six to seven minutes, we fell apart. We should have been rotating; our weak-side defense should have helped out – it didn’t.”
The Blazers also fell prey to what has become an all too familiar sight: the disappearance of Zach Randolph as a team player when the team needs him most. Even though Randolph finished the night with a game-high 23 points and eight rebounds, he was invisible down the stretch. Furthermore, Randolph looked bored on defense – at the same time that Butler was propelling the Hornets to a win.
“The development of this organization is not about Martell or Viktor Khryapa. It’s about Zach, Darius Miles and Theo Ratliff,” McMillan confessed. “We’re only going to go as far as they take us. The organization committed a lot of money to those guys. And they’ve got to come through for us.”
It was a direct call-out to the often-questionable play of Randolph and Miles.
Adding insult to injury, Portland was 10 for 24 (41.7 percent) from the free-throw line for the evening. The sparse crowd at the Rose Garden even erupted in a cheer, midway through third quarter, when Miles finally made one from the charity stripe.
Juan Dixon was surprised when the stat was brought up to him.
“Nah, I’ve never heard of that before; a team shooting better from the field than it did from the free-throw line,” Dixon said, shaking his head.
To ice it all, fingers have begun to openly point in the Blazers’ locker room. While Webster stated that Portland should have been able to rotate its defense in the fourth to prevent the Hornets from easy scores, both Dixon and Randolph seemed to think the Blazers need new pieces before anything is going to look right on the floor.
“We need help,” Randolph said. “It’s like making a cake: you’ve got to have the right ingredients. If you make a cake and don’t include all of the stuff in that you need to, when you’re making it, it’s not going to come out right.”
(Randolph then confessed to having never baked a cake before.)
At 18-37 on the season, Portland has now lost five straight and nine of its last 10.