Lovelorn: Trail Blazers 95, Timberwolves 81
It’s funny how the schedule works out sometimes. Kevin Love has been engaged in a heated battle with LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin for the past month over an All-Star spot. Now that he’s been named to the team, he has to face them both before Sunday’s festivities. How’s that for congratulations?
Well, let’s ask LaMarcus…
“First of all, I have nothing against Kevin Love, he is a really good player. But I thought All-Star was about making your team better, making your record better. But now I know: It’s about stats, not record.”
How’s that for passive aggressiveness? It’s disappointing that his ire wasn’t directed towards Tim Duncan, an actual undeserved candidate, but then again, his bewilderment with Kevin’s selection was equally understandable on this night. Not only did the Love and the Wolves starters go scoreless for the first eight minutes of the contest, LaMarcus nearly outscored our entire team in a first quarter where we could only muster 14 points to his 11.
Furthermore, Kevin didn’t guard Aldridge and the only shot he attempted in the quarter was rescinded due to a shot clock violation. So it wasn’t the most encouraging 12 minutes we’ve seen this season. When two All-Star caliber players at same position don’t match up against each other, it’s generally to conserve energy or prevent fouls, not because one of them is completely out matched. With that in mind, it’s reasonable to assume Aldridge left the building more baffled than when he entered.
Now none of this is to say that our young man didn’t deserve his vacation this weekend, just to acknowledge the curious position he’s in: an All-Star who is neither the best scorer or defender on his team. Of course he’s also an All-Star who averages 15 rebounds per game while shooting 40% from three, which no one has ever done. So he’s not incompetent, just unorthodox.
Unfortunately, he failed to display any of these talents either. While Aldridge’s length and post skills drew double teams, Love attempted just a single three pointer, was out rebounded by Dante Cunningham and consistently denied by a determined Portland defense. I asked Aldridge about the Blazers game plan after wards.
“You’ve just gotta body him. He has a knack for rebounding. It’s incredible how he knows how to read the ball, so you have to keep one or two guys on him and keep him on the perimeter if you can. Offensively, we fronted him. We didn’t let him get easy touches. I started out on Darko and Dante started out on him and we didn’t want him to play one on one with Dante so we had front him and when they threw it over the top we doubled him cause we didn’t want him to get going.”
Darko, on the other hand played an aggressive, if not inspired brand of basketball, contributing more than half of the points scored by our starting lineup. He consistently found cutters with a deft touch, challenged every shot within range-even blocking a few-and displayed the entire offensive package: face ups, step backs, reverse lay ins, hooks and even a nifty Dream shake. On a night when no one seemed willing or capable of finding an offensive rhythm, Darko reminded us all that despite his relatively low average, he is still the second most reliable offensive option on the team.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this performance was that his effort didn’t waver even after being victimized by Nicolas Batum’s stray elbow during a vicious dunk midway through the 3rd quarter. Far too often, we’ve seen Darko listless and easily intimidated. We’ll probably see it again. But it’s good to know these bouts with insecurity can be overcome in less than a week.
Here’s hoping the astoundingly poor performance from our back court can be shaken off just as easily. Corey Brewer, Wesley Johnson and Jonny Flynn somehow played 38 minutes without notching a single assist or rebound and scored just one measly point. Now this was slightly deceptive considering that each of their replacements (Luke Ridnour, Martell Webster & Wayne Ellington) played practically more minutes than all of them combined, but egads, man. How does that happen?
Wes couldn’t find a rhythm all night, forcing several off balance jumpers and forced to take more to beat the shot clock. He was clearly bothered by Portland’s collective length-particularly Batum and Cunningham-and his inability to create off of the dribble left him with few options. Wes plays at his best off the ball, but with Beasley out and the offense sputtering, he tried to bite off more than he could chew. An admirable effort, but there was literally nothing to show for it.
Corey just drifted through this one with no effort or purpose. It was inexplicable. Maybe he had too much chocolate.
Now Jonny played “okay” according to Kurt Rambis, but these eyes saw the same hellbent carelessness they have for much of this season. His aimless probing of the defense left teammates unbalanced and at a consistent disadvantage. Flynn would show a few moves to his defender and at times he’d even get around one, but there was always another waiting. To his credit, he didn’t force shots, taking only one for the night, however even his passes managed to prevent cohesion. He’d simply drop the ball off to an adjacent teammate and refuse to clear the area, leaving an extra defender and one less driving lane for the ball handler. He seems to have no regard for timing, spacing, match ups or even his own limitations. It’s the strangest thing.
Jonny is a warm and engaging person. He’ll chat you up with an effortless and welcoming smile as if he were the spokesman for happiness. But you wouldn’t know it if all you saw were the frowns and winces he flashes at work. Apparently the only place he can’t get along with anyone is on a basketball court.