I can't remember a more disappointing and, at the same time, surprising performance by the Trail Blazers this season. That 88-86 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies was grizzly, all right. Grim.
Let's start with the fact that Memphis was without Mike Conley, Vince Carter, James Ennis, Chandler Parsons and Brandan Wright. The Grizzlies were basically Marc Gasol and Tony Allen against the world. The Trail Blazers dominated the Grizzlies nearly the whole game but could never put them away.
The Portland lead was 77-64 with 7:13 to play in this very slow-paced game and 79-68 wth 5:11 left. But Gasol got wide open for a three-point field goal and Troy Daniels drilled one that was officially called a 30-footer with 1:35 to play that gave Memphis a one-point lead. Then Toney Douglas, signed off his couch at home Dec. 5, hammered home a jumper and two free throws for another one-point lead. After Mason Plumlee tied the game for the final time with a free-throw, Douglas hit two more foul shots to win it for the Grizzlies.
You can talk about the foul call on Damian Lillard that sent Douglas to the line, but in a game like this it's absurd to bring the officiating into the conversation. Officials had nothing to do with the outcome of this contest. With the game on the line, Portland made just four of 19 shots in the fourth quarter, 21.1 percent. For the game, the Trail Blazers shot just 30.5 percent from the field -- their worst in a decade! -- and only 25 percent from three-point range.
This game was a total mess, as ugly as you'll ever see the NBA get. If you want to look at individual Portland shooting totals you can find the official league box score here -- but be ready to cover your eyes. Yes, Memphis shot poorly, too. But mostly that was players who normally wouldn't be on the floor at key times of an NBA game. Gasol was the one player Portland needed to defend and that never got done.
The Trail Blazers missed plenty of shots in the paint and too many from three-point range. I had a thought at one point about the team's three-point shooting that I should pass along, too.
Perhaps the reason that players shoot better from three in Portland than in other places is that they get open ones with the Trail Blazers that they didn't get elsewhere. The system is tried and true for three-point shooters. And, too, players are encouraged to shoot them here like they were nowhere else. Over and over, we've heard about Coach Terry Stotts chastising his players for passing up open shots -- not for gunning them up. Certainly, showing confidence in players is a key part of getting them to play their best.
But. BUT. When a player is going through a tough time making threes -- and isn't really a great three-point shooter in the first place -- I think it's important to have that shooter be a little more judicious with his shots. And I'm talking about Al-Farouq Aminu.
He's shooting 20.5 percent from three-point range and most of the time, he's not even close. Sure, I know all about shooters shooting their way out of slumps. I'm just not sure he's much of a shooter in the first place, in spite of his relative success last season. And at least for now, in the midst of tight games, I think he should be restrained a bit.
But that's just a nitpick right now. While the defense seems to be better, the offense now has gotten inconsistent.
There's a positive sign after that game at Memphis, though: There is nowhere to go but up.