Batum: Blazers still confident?
If you weren't overly invested in the outcome, Golden State's 113-112 win over the Trail Blazers was a very entertaining game Sunday night in the Moda Center. And I'd like to make a few points about what I saw:
- A whole lot of people are going to get worried about another loss to a plus-.500 team, a West playoff team, another close loss and, in general, lump this in with some other recent defeats. But I don't think that's appropriate after this game. The Trail Blazers played well for most of the night and lost at the end when Nic Batum missed a free throw. Folks, that isn't going to happen often. Batum is one of the best clutch shooters -- from the field and the line -- on this team. Stuff happens. But a one-point loss in a game like this is as much a product of bad luck as bad basketball. It wasn't as if the Blazers didn't execute down the stretch -- they did. That's how you get Batum on the foul line in the first place. That's how Damian Lillard gets a layup and what would have been a three-point play if his shot hadn't miraculously jiggled out of the basket.
- Two Portland technical fouls in the fourth quarter was not a good thing in a one-point loss. The one on Coach Terry Stotts was excusable. He doesn't get many (that one was just his fourth of the season) and, after all, he's the coach and coaches are supposed to get them at times. Still, it was probably ill-timed. But the one on Mo Williams was really a tough one. You just can't have players getting technical fouls late in close games that you lose by a point.
- Yes, I know it appeared Batum got fouled on that shot after his free-throw miss. But referees aren't going to bail you out on shots like that very often -- shots that have little or no chance to go in. Better to have called a timeout in that situation.
- If the Blazers had won, and they easily could have, a lot of talk would have been about Portland building a 7-1 record without LaMarcus Aldridge. It's crazy to say this team would be better off without him but it's not at all stupid to say that it plays better basketball without him -- at least lately. Ball and player movement is much better and really, the defense was just as good without him. In the second half of the season, Aldridge has been a ball-stopper on offense and it's hurt this team's motion offense. For my money, Lillard defers to him too often, too. Portland needs the first-half-of-the-season Aldridge back in the lineup. The second-half Aldridge, not as much.
- The Trail Blazer guards got soundly whipped by the Warrior guards and that was the real story of the game. And obviously, Portland's continued inability to step up and stop torrid outside shooting on pick-and-rolls was killer. I feel as if I've been talking about this for months, but on that high pick-and-roll, you can't allow some of the best outside shooters in basketball to line up open threes with a game on the line. If the players on the court can't make those adjustments, somebody else is going to have to play in that situation.
- Look, in regard to the home court advantage and seeding for the playoffs: It's not going to matter much where the Trail Blazers are seeded or who they play. If they were going to finish fourth and play Houston in the first round, even with a higher seed and home-court advantage, the Trail Blazers were going to be underdogs in that series. I can't see many Western Conference teams that the Trail Blazers would be favored against in a seven-game series. I've never believed they were going to win a first-round series, even early in the year when things looked so rosy. They just aren't ready for that yet. But if they're going to pull an upset, which is entirely possible, opening a series on the road is probably the best way to do it. Steal a win early and then hope the other team tightens up. The Blazers have a puncher's chance of doing that. The biggest playoff upsets I've seen in 30 years covering the NBA have come down just that way. Home court traditionally matters in the playoffs because the best teams usually have it. But it isn't going to help the weaker team win a seven-game series.