With the All-Star break quickly approaching the Western Conference standings are closer than ever. As a Portland native, it is a pleasant surprise to see my Blazers clinging onto a solid position in the competitive West.
Sitting in fourth place currently, with a 30-18 record, the Blazers are having their heels nipped by a handful of teams that don’t usually trail the Blazers in the standings. The Hornets, Mavericks, Rockets, and Suns would fill out the rest of the playoff roster if it were to start today.
This makes me nervous. With so many quality teams just a few games back from taking over the fourth spot, the Blazers need to remain consistent.
Last night heading into the game with the Mavericks, the Blazers were coming off a huge comeback victory against New Orleans two days prior.
This has noticeably lifted spirits, but it wasn’t enough to combat Dallas’ field goal percentage in the first half. Having lost the last nine meetings against Dallas, the snake bit Blazers demonstrated just how nervous they were in the second quarter hitting a total of seven shots and digging a 14-point hole going into halftime.
While they trailed going into the half at New Orleans, the offense was not as isolated, and the jumpers were falling.
This apparent lack energy was spurred by guard Jerryd Bayless, who came into the game quickly in the third quarter. His aggressive drives and kick outs combined with his rookie emotion ignited a slight charge.
The deficit was slowly diminished, but never extinguished. Dallas left the door wide open by actually missing a few jumpers putting their average at a slightly more reachable plateau late in the third and beginning the fourth.
However, in true Portland versus Dallas fashion, every time the lead was trimmed to single digits, Kidd, Terry, Howard, or "the Blazer killer" Bass would come up with a quick three or gobble up a turnover and send the lead back to 10 or 12.
While I did not lose hope, I do admit I was flipping channels with a minute left in the fourth, only to flip back to the game and see them down by only three with ten seconds to go. Needless to say, close, but no cigar.
This game wasn’t a "make or break" game in terms of playoff confidence.
It simply shows the young Portland roster is not ready to be a serious threat in the playoffs. This will help motivate and educate so that if these teams do meet in a seven game series down the road, they can build off this defeat.
Taking a loss and turning it into an optimistic foundation for future success is the blueprint of champions.