Five Thoughts 1-9-18 (Blazers 117, Thunder 106)
1. If you read the site, you know I do my best to stay away from hyperbole and overreaction in the moment. So I don’t feel the least bit of trepidation saying that this was the worst loss of the season. Unfortunately, there are a lot to choose from, but this one ranks at the top for me because it comes after a period when it appeared this kind of play was behind us. I didn’t like the listless effort in Phoenix on Sunday, but considering they won the other two games on the trip I could brush that off as the guys perhaps having a little too much leisure time and playing flat at the end of week long trip. Call it a lousy night and move on. But you can only brush aside a lousy effort if you following it up with a good one. If you toss out an even MORE lousy performance two days later (at home, against a team missing their best player) well, then you might just be, lousy.
2. Defense was atrocious. Obviously they miss Andre Roberson badly in this department as there is a very clear drop off when he is out. He came out of the Milwaukee game very late and wasn’t on the court for the final possession when Giannis Antetokounmpo beat Josh Huestis baseline (albeit while stepping out of bounds). So our defense literally started to cave the instant he got hurt. And it has been garbage ever since. Tonight was just awful because Portland got whatever they wanted, wherever they wanted. Inside, outside, downtown, uptown, left, right, from Guthrie to Norman. Whatever. It’s fine if your defense takes a hit when you subtract your best defender. It’s expected actually. But the Thunder should have enough in the tank to not just get run over by the Suns and Blazers. Really pathetic. Roberson can’t get back fast enough. I hope everyone that trashes him has been enjoying the turnstile routine the last few games.
3. As always with Russ his weakness is the same as his greatness. And it’s often hard to figure out where one stops and the other starts. It was a Tuesday night the second week in January, game No. 40. To start the evening I thought nine of the 10 players on the court were fairy content to demonstrate that it was a Tuesday night the second week in January, game No. 40. Not necessarily a poor effort from anyone. But 90 percent of the guys out there seemed content to let the game slowly play out, figure out the pace, etc. But that 10%. Man, he just doesn’t do “pace.” Russ was a Tasmanian Devil from the opening tip. He was absolutely frantic. The reason Russ is Russ is because that’s what he does. No off nights. No going through motions. But tonight it manifested itself in some very sloppy play early. He’s going 110 MPH while his teammates are doing 75. That will cause some traffic issues. Moreover, it starts to force all 9 other guys to pick it up. It sort of lights a fire under the opponent as well. About midway tough the first quarter tonight, the intensity picked up. Both teams were responding to Russ. Sometimes going through the motions might be better. I’ll never rip Russ too much for this because you can’t pick and choose when to love it and when to hate it. But it would be beneficial if RUSS learned to pick and choose a bit more.
4. Bench is all kinds of messed up right now. It’s just terrible. Felton is the only guy playing at an acceptable NBA level. Grant has slowly dipped and is now looking like a borderline rotational guy. Just not a ton of options remaining unless Donovan wants to give Nick Collison, Kyle Singler, and Dakari Johnson longer looks— and I don’t think anyone views any of those guys as a long term solution to anything. It will help when Andre returns, but I’ll continue to bang that trade drum. Presti needs to be looking.
5. First half of the season is officially over. It wasn’t good. The second quarter was better than the first, so improvement is nice. But the second quarter ended with a thud, losing four out of six including three in a row at home. I’d grade the Thunder a C-minus for the first half of this year. The second quarter I would give them a B-minus so that tells you all you need to know about the first quarter. Their inability to beat middling to poor teams was exasperating. They would be right there with the Spurs, if not the Rockets, had they just taken care of half of those losses against bad teams. The upside to the first half would be that they flashed the potential to be great. They played far better against the better teams and their defense in particular against good competition was excellent. The offense looks more fluid than it did early as well. Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony all seem to be far more settled now than they were at the start of December. I wanted 9-5 in January. 2-2 thus far, so still attainable. Speaking more specifically about the second half, I am not overly worried about the win total. I’d like for them to get to 50 wins. That would require a 28-13 record from here on out, or a six-game improvement in the second half over the first half. Seems like a long shot, but if they keep up their December pace that’s right about where they will wind up. Really hoping these last two miserable outings are random outliers and not a sign of things to come. Pretty massive game in Minnesota tomorrow. It’s a good way to get the second half started. Or, at least, it can be.