HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It’s a dangerous thing, trying to read body language and later someone’s Tweets or trying decipher what’s really being said by a player or coach after a tough loss, or string of losses.
But there is no mistaking the sense of desperation coming from the Portland Trail Blazers right now, losers of four of their last five games and stumbling their way to the All-Star break with the injuries and frustration mounting. The questions about coach Nate McMillan‘s grip on the situation started a while ago, long before last night’s deflating performance.
Now All-Star power forward and franchise anchor LaMarcus Aldridge goes down with a severe left ankle injury in the home loss to Washington (… yes, home loss to the Washington Wizards) and the Blazers look like they might be in some serious trouble. Marcus Camby (above), Gerald Wallace, Jamal Crawford, Nicolas Batum and Raymond Felton have all expressed their frustrations and concerns with the current state of affairs, in one way or another.
They have to find a way to dust themselves off and get ready for what most observers, most notably my main man Ben Golliver of Blazersedge.com, consider their most difficult stretch of the season:
Aldridge’s injury comes at a terrible time. The Blazers are clearly reeling, playing their worst stretch of the season, and must now face the Warriors in Oakland, the Los Angeles Clippers and Atlanta Hawks at home, the Lakers in Los Angeles and the San Antonio Spurs at home during the seven days that remain before the All-Star break. That’s a tall task, and everyone involved realizes that this team is now without its only consistent player.
McMillan is ticked off, despite his best effort to remain mostly placid after the loss. On Monday, he vented at a small group of reporters for questioning his handling of Batum’s minutes. 30 hours later, he was refusing to confirm his decision to move Batum into the starting lineup while edging forward in his office chair, shoulders tense. Another four hours after that, he was calling out his team’s pride, unable to really explain what he could do to turn this thing back around.
“No defense,” McMillan muttered. “There was no defense.”
No rebounding either. No joy to the play. To be frank, there wasn’t much heartbreak in the locker room either.
“We are frustrated and angry but all that rah rah talk and frustration and throwing chairs and all of that is not equating out there on the basketball court,” Camby said. “I think it’s pretty much wasted energy.”
These don’t sound like the words of men who are prepared to hold the line together and fight the dark forces strangling the life out of what was a very promising season just a few weeks ago.
But again, maybe we’re reading too much into just the words of Camby, Wallace and Batum and the rest of the Blazers. Maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way. You need someone with boots (or Jordans) on the ground in Portland to help make better sense of it all. More from Golliver:
The losses don’t appear to be eating away at this group like they have in recent years. There’s frustration, especially from McMillan, but that wasn’t much resolve, especially without Aldridge. Like a canary in a coal mine, frustration without resolve can often foreshadow a fissure in the coach/players relationship.
But both Wallace and Batum said clearly that the poor play was on the team, not McMillan.
“I don’t think this has anything to do with the coach,” Wallace said. “This is all the players. The coaching staff, they do a great job of drawing up the execution that they want us to do out on the court, it just comes down to us executing.
“The coaches can’t get out there, they can’t get the rebounds for us. They can’t pinpoint the passes where they have to go. Those are some of the main things killing us. Turnovers in bad situations and at the wrong time, and rebounds. We play pretty good for 23 seconds and we give up a big rebound, second chance, that has nothing to do with the coaches.”
Again, we’re going to be very careful here at the hideout trying to translate any of this into a language that spells doom for anyone. But we’ve heard this sort of stuff before.
We know how quickly these things could spiral out of control.