The Portland Trail Blazers’ last two games have been a perfect reflection of the team’s season thus far.
On Friday night, against the New Jersey Nets, the Blazers shot 51.6 percent from the floor, played solid defense and had four different players reach double-figures in scoring.
Portland controlled the tempo, held Jason Kidd to 7 of 23 shooting and capped off an eight-game homestand at 5-3.
However, the next night, facing the Golden State Warriors, Portland barely bothered to show up. The Blazers began the game 0-10 and only scored 12 points in the first quarter.
Zach Randolph shot 3 of 12 from the field and had more fouls (five) than he had rebounds (four). And to make matters worse, Portland was facing a severely undermanned opponent because Warriors starters Jason Richardson and Mike Dunleavy were injured.
And it appears that this is just how it’s going to be from here on out this season if you’re a Blazer fan. One night, the promise is fulfilled. You can get your hopes up again. The next, it’s embarrassing to cheer out loud for the red, white and black.
However, it’s to be expected. The team is still growing, still learning. Still adjusting to everything from a new head coach to new faces on the roster. And they’re doing it all.
Darius Miles, their leading scorer, has been on injured reserve for nearly two months.
Portland is a young team, unproven and often unsure of itself. Nate McMillan constantly talks about how his players tend to speed everything up when they need to slow everything down and how during a crucial point in a game the team is unsure who it can turn to, who is going to lead it.
“We don’t have someone who is out there pulling us together,” McMillan said after the Blazers fell to the Denver Nuggets. “We’re still trying to figure out who is going to lead us.”
This lack of leadership only compounds the issues that Portland is currently facing. With Miles on IR and Randolph nightly looking like the reincarnation of Houdini, the Blazers lack a singular voice that can pull the team together in close games.
Case in point: Portland had tough, heartbreaking losses to two of the NBA’s best teams in the last week (Denver and the Dallas Mavericks). In both games Portland held the lead in the fourth quarter, only to lose it.
Lately, Juan Dixon has attempted to carry the team. But Dixon is a streaky shooter and an unreliable defender. Moreover, he can at times display a me-first attitude on the floor. And on nights when he’s cold (he was 8 of 21 against the Warriors), he’s relatively useless.
Until Portland finds a leader, it’s going to be an interesting ride. The talent is there. You don’t hold your own against the Nuggets and the Mavericks without talent. And the Blazers have one of the best head coaches in the game in McMillan.
But you better get used to the now-you-see-’em-now-you-don’t Portland Trail Blazers for the time being. Because unless a Billups or a Nowitzki or a James or an O’Neal or a Bryant appears, the Blazers are going to be an unpredictable, sometimes exciting, sometimes frustrating team to watch.