The Cars sang about letting the good times roll, and about a week and a half ago, after the Portland Trail Blazers stunned the defending champion Miami Heat, on primetime television, this song should’ve been blaring at every Blazer practice.
Portland sat five games over .500 (20-15), had a firm grip on the 8th spot in the West, and all seemed to be heading in the right direction for this young, benchless, team. That is, until they seemingly stopped remembering how to play basketball as if aliens were sent to steal their basketball talent (a la the Monstars from Space Jam).
Heading in to the previous week, Portland was hoping to get some of it’s talent back (sans Michael Jordan‘s help) after dropping games to Golden State and Oklahoma City. Two losses to two of the stronger teams in the West is nothing to be ashamed of, but Portland was hoping to avoid spiraling out of control.
However, spiral out of control is exactly what happened, and Portland just put the finishing touches on a hellish week that saw them lose three more games against arguably weaker talented teams.
Their grip on the 8th spot in the West is slipping.
With a road game against Denver, and home games against Cleveland and Milwaukee this past week, Portland was looking to rid itself of the poor play and get back to their winning ways. But once again, the Blazers stumbled at every turn and have become a blunder on both offense and defense, making it painfully hard to continue to watch this team play “basketball”.
A road overtime loss to Denver (their first OT loss of the season) was supplemented with losses at home to both Cleveland and Milwaukee. After the week you’d swear you could hear the groans from the Rose Garden all the way in Beaverton. This team has officially lost its identity and is struggling to get back to the high they experienced after the Miami game.
Despite the subpar play of the team as a whole, there were a few performances that stuck out over the course of the week that prove this team isn’t all bad.
First Star: LaMarcus Aldridge (1/15: L @ Denver)
At this point, with the accumulation of losses and general discomfort in Portland, Aldridge‘s play has been more of a campaign to get him to Houston for the All-Star game. This isn’t to say his efforts have been solely to stuff his stat sheet, it just seems to be more newsworthy than the Blazers’ current state of affairs.
In last week’s matchup at Denver, Aldridge logged 45 minutes of action, put up 28 points (on 10-21 from the floor, including a perfect 8-8 from the free throw line) while adding 8 rebounds, 6 assists and a block.
If Aldridge’s recent performances net him a trip to the All-Star game — his second in a row — then Portland will have a little more to be happy about that their abysmal record would indicate.
However, I’d trade wins for All-Star appearances any day.
Second Star: Damian Lillard (1/19: L vs. Milwaukee)
Damian Lillard sure has spent a lot of time in this column, and while he’s taken a few weeks off (thanks to the outstanding play of Aldridge, Matthews and Batum) he’s back to proving why Portland selected him No. 6 overall in last years’ draft.
He has, however, been a little streaky lately. But you can’t deny the playmaking ability he provides while on the court for the Blazers.
In last weeks game against the Bucks, Lillard put up 26 points (on 9-21 from the floor, 3-9 from three point range and 5-6 from the charity stripe) while adding 10 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal and a block in 42 minutes of play.
The rookie logged his 6th double double of the season and has been every bit of the upgrade over Raymond Felton Portland so badly needed.
While many critics are tabbing him as the early Rookie of the Year favorite, he’ll be able to show the country what he can do in Houston as an inevitable selection to the Rookie/Sophomore game is surely on the horizon for Lillard.
Third Star: JJ Hickson (1/16: L vs. Cleveland)
Last Wednesday night, Hickson and the Blazers welcomed in JJ’s former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, to the Rose Garden.
Hoping to escape with a victory over the team that parted ways with him a few seasons ago, JJ had to settle with proving that his talent was something the Cavaliers should have never taken lightly in the first place.
In 31 minutes of action, Hickson tallied 13 points (on 5-8 from the floor and 3-6 from the line) and added 11 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block and a steal. The double double was Hickson’s 23rd of the year, and teams around the league are taking notice of JJ’s high octane style of play and will surely inquire about his availability before the trade deadline.
Dunk of the Week: JJ Hickson vs. Cleveland
This week’s top dunk sees JJ Hickson absolutely obliterate Cleveland forward Alonzo Gee. Gee’s expression after he gets posterized says it all. Enjoy.