Out muscled and out hustled:Trail Blazers 108, Wolves 98
This is one of those times I wish we were the Knicks. Not for their world renowned Garden, rabidly entitled fan base or sensationalistic coverage, but for Clyde Frazier. Only his effortless effervescence could adequately capture the highs and lows of the Wolves recent play. Not that I’m unappreciative of our man Jim Petersen, who does a swell job in his stead, but Jim specializes in good ‘ol fashioned straight talk. We need a man like that. However, there’s also times we need to just chill and no one does chill like Clyde.
Luke Ridnour is far from a swirling dervish. There’s no wheeling and dealing, nor will his ubiquity leave anyone reeling. In fact, he’s perfectly average in every way. But he may be the most important player on this team. He doesn’t inhale rebounds like Kevin Love or have Beasleyesque scoring binges, however he’s the only Wolf who can provide some semblance of order amidst the chaos that is our offense. Occasionally I’ll check out the visiting locker room for a peek at the game plan on their whiteboard. Oftentimes, I can’t make much sense of the diagrams or terminology, but tonight I had no such problems. Numero uno, in bright red ink was “1st option=Dead”.
Taking away the Wolves first offensive option practically sends them into conniptions. Darko panics, looking wildly about to escape both double teams and responsibility. Love conquers very little, easily taken out of his game when forced to make a move in the post or off the dribble. And as is the case with most scorers, Beasley’s bravado tends to result in some questionable decision making. Everyone else is just trying not to turn the ball over. Which is why Ridnour’s ability to play within himself is beneficial to the entire team.
Pulling up for a jumper at the elbow after curling around a screen instead of attacking the basket kept the defense honest. A heady skip pass from the top of the key to Beas in the corner kept the defense imbalanced. Some quick floaters in the lane kept the defense from collapsing on him. There wasn’t much razzle dazzle to it, if any. Just a basic understanding of timing and spacing that kept the offense moving, netting himself 11 assists for the evening.
Now, Jonny Flynn? He was perplexin’ and distressin’. His complete lack of awareness led to offensive breakdowns on nearly every possession. Teammates were clearly disjointed and quite confused. After pounding the air out of the ball, Flynn initiated sets too close to the basket and too late in the shot clock for them to have any success. All of his instincts were to score and quite frankly, he can’t. What’s most troubling is we’re still not sure Jonny understands any of this or if he ever will.
Something got under Michael Beasley’s skin tonight. Quite literally. As he lofted twenty footers towards the basket during pregame, the only thing more concerning than the deep scratches across his face was the look on it. No smile, no light behind those eyes, just a scowl of seeming indifference. Initially it could have been interpreted as that glorified killer instinct, but even in those cases our Beas has always been a jovial competitor. This was something else. Silence, sullen determination and a postgame disappearing act. A teammate vaguely informed us that the scars were from practice, but when questioned about them Kurt Rambis simply said ” I don’t know’.
Whatever the case may have been, Wes Matthews continually punished him for running under screens with six threes and 29 first half points, Dante Cunningham sent him crashing to earth during a botched alley-oop attempt and midway through the second half he tweaked his ankle, all of which couldn’t have helped his mood. If only for this one night, Beasley looked nothing like the affable goofball we know and love. This was just another working stiff punching the clock. Present in body, partially in mind, but not at all in spirit.
This is getting pretty depressing. I forgot we were supposed to chill. Which ironically, may be exactly the problem.
Our play of late has been highlighted by poor starts, late runs and sporadic effort. Martell Webster was kind enough to throw in his two cents on the matter after last night’s letdown. “…as you get further into this league and you get on a team that’s not winning, a time’s just gonna come where you’re just like, that’s it. I’m gonna take it upon myself. You can’t blame, you can’t do the pointing game. Because it always comes back to you. And it’s like: what can I do better? Have I been blown by on defense? Is my footwork bad? Does my body language out there look sluggish? And those things you’ve got to critique yourself on. And you bring it. So stop worrying about everybody else and start worrying about yourself, and you bring it. That’s how I see it.”
How do I see it? I see it’s January. This is a difficult stretch for fans and players alike. The season is far from over, but enough of it has passed for malaise to have set in and contrary to popular belief, this isn’t just a problem for championship teams.
At this point we all know what ails this unit, as do they. The tone of the media’s questions reflect it, both coach and players answers do little to hide that they’re sick of repeating it and a collective groan reverberates throughout the arena. ‘This is an unfinished product’. We’re missing a lottery pick, in line for another, flush with cap space and trade rumors abound. Progress may be our selling point, but until pieces are acquired to take that next step we’re asking our pups to show blind faith and a maximum effort, knowing full well their best often won’t be enough. That’s not always easy. In fact, it never is. These young men have been playing for little more than pride since November.
Unfortunately, struggling with these realities will result in the occasional relapse. So before we demand the head of our green coach for failing to maximize the potential of our greener roster (or vice versa…), let’s remember how enthused we were with the potential of this bunch just a few weeks ago, take a deep breath and….well, you know.