Welcome to the Weekly Preview. As the Portland Trail Blazers hit the road again, let’s just jump right into the games.
All games can be heard on AM 620 Rip City Radio.
Tuesday, March 12: @ Los Angeles Clippers, 7:30 PM, NBCSNW
The Skinny: About a month after trading away their best player, forward Tobias Harris, the Clippers are in solid playoff position. Tied with San Antonio for seventh in the Western standings as of Monday night, LA wasn’t supposed to be here. The consensus opinion was that the Clips were shedding all obligation to Harris, getting a couple assets back in return, and preparing for the upcoming summer.
Instead of fading away, the Clippers caught fire. Sacramento’s youth and the Lakers being…the Lakers…helped tremendously, but it can’t be denied that LA and its merry band of misfits are playing splendidly. The Clips are 6-2 since the All-Star break and are just 2 ½ games behind Portland and Oklahoma City for home-court advantage.
Now, LA won’t get home-court advantage; I love Lou Williams (who’s about to set the NBA record for most career points off the bench), but if he’s your best player, you’re not leapfrogging teams helmed by Paul George and Damian Lillard. Still, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t root for the Clips to just rip off a huge winning streak and grab the fourth seed. It would be such a feel-good story, I wouldn’t be salty about the Blazers getting dunked on by a team of scrappy scrubs.
Well…maybe a little salty.
Matchup to Watch: Montrezl Harrell vs. Jusuf Nurkic. Among the numerous Clippers playing their asses off, Harrell is a smash-mouth center with a talent for dunking and rebounding and is improving on defense. Think a bulkier Kenneth Faried who’s shooting 62% and averaging 16+ points per game.
Prediction: I think Los Angeles will take the win, but it could just be my irrational admiration for this team talking.
Friday, March 15: @ the New Orleans Pelicans, 5:00 PM, NBCSNW/Blazers Pass
The Skinny: Other folks who cover the Association (and by “other,” I mean “everybody else but me”) have taken the time to pound keys and print sheets, offering myriad opinions on the messed-up Anthony Davis situation. I’m not going to waste our collective time doing that. I’m actually going to bring up an underreported aspect of the whole deal—the fact that the New Orleans franchise has had two of the greatest players of all time, and utterly wasted them.
When Chris Paul fell to the then-Hornets at No. 4 in the 2005 Draft, it was considered a huge boon for the recently-moved team. Hurricane Katrina had laid waste to the Crescent City, and the Hornets were playing their home games in Oklahoma City, yet Paul thrived and excelled. He won the 2006 Rookie of the Year, led the league in assists twice and steals three times, had two seasons with 20+ points per game and 10+ assists per game, made the All-Star Game four times, and made three All-NBA and All-Defensive Teams.
By every objective measure, CP3 is the best player to play for the Hornets/Pelicans (and even if Alonzo Mourning’s time was accounted for in the New Orleans franchise’s history, I would still stand by that statement). Yet for all his brilliance, his teams never got anywhere in the postseason—when they got there. The only decent teammates Paul had were David West and Quincy Pondexter. The team was mismanaged by the incurably inept George Shinn, then-Commissioner David Stern assumed control of the franchise after nudging Shinn out, and Paul was sent to the Clippers after Stern vetoed a trade to the Lakers (a little late to pay penance for all those times your referees favored the Lake Show, Dave) when CP3 wanted out of town.
Normally, losing a player of Paul’s caliber—sure-fire Hall of Famer, franchise icon, top player at his position/top 10 overall—would cripple a small-market team for years. Not New Orleans, though. One year later, they won the Anthony Davis sweepstakes and drafted the unicorn prototype first overall in 2012.
It can’t be understated or overemphasized how insanely lucky the Hornets were to land Hall-of-Famers basically back-to-back. Sure, Paul never played with Davis, but AD still gave the franchise a chance to start over, and right the managerial wrongs of the Paul Era, especially after Tom Benson, owner of the Saints and New Orleans business icon, acquired the Hornets and rebranded them the Pelicans.
Turns out, the Bensons had their own issues. After Benson’s wife outmaneuvered his children and became his heir, the football people were given greater say in the Pelican’s operations. The basketball team was always second both in the city’s heats and in Benson’s priorities. Dell Demps repeated the mistakes of the men he was brought in to replace, failing to surround the star talent with complementary players. The whole thing exploded after Benson died, the Pelicans sputtered out of the gate to start the season, and Davis publicly demanded a trade—and got hit with a hefty fine from the league for tampering.
Most teams only get a few players worthy of inclusion in basketball’s great Pantheon. How they maximize those special, rare talents they draft is a task and a burden that surprisingly few men are equipped to bear. Stu Inman and Rick Adelman were capable administrators in Portland, while Monty Williams and Dell Demps were not for New Orleans. While not everything went perfectly in Rip City when Bill Walton and Clyde Drexler spent their respective time here, I’d call both of them rousing successes.
Walton was the best player on the Blazers’ lone championship team in 1977 and won the Most Valuable Player award—the only Trail Blazer so honored—the following year, while under Drexler, Portland had its greatest run of sustained success, with NBA Finals appearances in 1990 and 1992 sandwiching a franchise-high 63-win campaign in 1991. Both are in the Hall of Fame. I’d say the Trail Blazers did a good job, under the circumstances of their time (Walton’s foot troubles, Drexler running into Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan), getting the most out of the transcendent talent they were given—just like the Pelicans failed miserably to do the same with the transcendent talent THEY were handed.
If the franchise bleeds red ink and is sold to Chris Hanson to pair with the new NHL team in the new arena in Seattle, it would be richly deserved for the folks that did such a bad job helping such great players achieve the greatness their skills deserved. What a shame.
Matchup to Watch: Anthony Davis vs. Jusuf Nurkic. Davis is still playing for the team, by the way. I don’t get why the league won’t let the Pels—who want nothing more to do with AD—just sit him for the rest of the year, but Davis reportedly wants to play the season out; it’s a player’s league now, and Adam Silver is leaning on the Bensons to lean on Alvin Gentry in turn. So, Davis is playing—even if his minutes have been extremely strange.
Prediction: Blazers win.
Trail Blazers’ Record Last Week: 1-2
Trail Blazers’ Record Overall: 40-26
Jared’s Picks Last Week: 2-1
Jared’s Picks Overall: 40-25