PORTLAND – While there’s no reason to panic after two straight losses at home, the Portland Trail Blazers are certainly concerned that some larger issues have crept into the Rose Garden.
Dropping a game in Portland was a rarity before this week. The Blazers were 11-1 at home, which went a long way toward boosting the team’s overall standing in the Western Conference.
But then came a deflating overtime loss to Oklahoma City, made worse when officials acknowledged later that a key call was botched. On Wednesday night, the Blazers fell to the Rockets, dropping Portland to 14-12 overall.
According to coach Nate McMillan and the players, the Blazers are struggling right now on many levels. The team can’t find any kind of defensive rhythm. They can’t finish fast-breaks. They are unable to close out games. And so on.
The Blazers are now 26 games into the lockout-shortened 66-game season. What Portland needs right now is answers, said LaMarcus Aldridge.
“We’ve just got to get it together,” Aldridge said. “We’ve got to figure it out.”
McMillan was also trying to do that.
“That’s part of the challenge. To figure out the combinations of players. Motivating these guys. Getting them to play both ways and getting that right combination out there that can and will do that. We’ve just played in spurts,” he said.
The Blazers travel to New Orleans to face the Hornets tonight.
There were questions whether Portland was still dealing with the lingering effects of the blown call in the loss to the Thunder.
Aldridge was called for goaltending on Kevin Durant’s attempted layup with 6 seconds left. The call tied the game at 103, it went to overtime and Oklahoma City emerged with a 111-107 victory.
The next day, a statement was posted to NBA.com: “With the benefit of slow motion replay following the game, it has been determined that Aldridge made contact with the ball just before the ball hit the backboard. Therefore, this should have been ruled a good block and goaltending was the incorrect call.”
Referees cannot use instant replay on goaltending calls.
While it could be considered a moral victory, the admission did not change the disappointing outcome for the Blazers.
Before the game, McMillan said part of the problem is that the Blazers have struggled to adjust to new personnel. Raymond Felton is Portland’s new point guard this season, while Jamal Crawford, Craig Smith and Kurt Thomas joined the team in training camp. Brandon Roy, one of the emotional leaders of the team, retired just before camp got under way because of ongoing problems with his knees.
The Blazers also have tried, with Felton at the point, to pick up their pace this season. But their difficulty with fast breaks – they missed three good chances against the Rockets – shows they aren’t making that up-tempo adjustment smoothly.
McMillan, who characterized the team’s execution as “not good,” addressed the problems this week by working on fundamentals during practice.
“We talked about just getting back to doing things simple, simplifying some things and getting back to our foundations. We didn’t come out like that,” said Crawford, who led the Blazers with 21 points against Houston. “It’s disheartening for sure. We’ve got to get on our horse and face the adversity.”