These, my friends, are Ray-Ray's last days, and we are here to witness the crumbling, and then the washing out. Also, the New Jersey Nets are in town.
This is a video of Raymond Felton, in the locker room, the night he cost the Blazers a win against the Utah Jazz.
Here's what I noticed: NOTHING HE SAID MEANT ANYTHING. There was no caloric value to any of the syllables tripping over his lower lip, slapping against his ankles and rolling slowly away from him.
At least his words didn't mean anything. But his body language told a different story: That dude is very, very uncomfortable in his own skin. And not just because the team lost. He has no confidence in anything he does anymore. None. Not playing basketball, not talking to people, not looking anyone in the eye. The only time he acts with anything resembling conviction, is when he's trying to apply false bravado to his voice as liberally as the balm he's rubbing all over his arms. And even THEN, he's bailing out after a few seconds. Because he's not doing it right. He's very aware he's not doing it right.
He's not doing ANYTHING right.
I know it's a hard position to be in, to know you cost your team a game it should have won, and then to have your personal space invaded and microphones placed in front of your head, and then to be asked to own up to those mistakes.
It's even harder when all the traditions of your sport - of professional sports in general, really - dictate that every answer you cough up be as devoid of honesty as possible, sans any insight beyond fortune cookie platitudes and easily regurgitated cliche.
But the choices Raymond made in that 2:46 of painfully awkward video? All the wrong ones. His instincts are backwards. And a man who can't discern the quality of the choices laid out in front of him is not a man well suited to the job of Point Guard.
Mike Barrett tweeted today that it's pretty safe to assume Raymond Felton will be gone at the end of the year. I don't necessarily feel good about this. Yes, it's good for the team that he'll be gone, because he doesn't fit here. But when he came to Portland, he still had some semblance of direction. He's aimless now. It's not even so much that he's leaving, it's more like he's being stranded. And if this video is any indication, he'll go with none of his confidence. It will have been stripped from him, replaced with confusion, scabbed over with a thick layer of self-righteousness and denial, seeping frustration and depression.
Of all the negative things that happened to the organization this season, the slow erosion of Raymond Felton was one of the more depressing to witness.
And if you think that's depressing, imagine being a Nets fan!
Blazers fans can be of unified mind and body when it comes to tonight's game. Fandom is still roughly split; Some want the team to just lay down and get run over until April is over; Others want the team to play as hard as possible, even if that means the Blazers dance right up to the playoff doors before getting them slammed in their face. But if the Blazers defeat the Nets tonight, both sides are happy: The Nets are in possession of Portland's draft pick, and the worse their record (unless they fall into the bottom three) the better it is for the Blazers. In fact, some Blazers fans spend more time checking the Nets' standings at this point.
I can kinda understand that, too. The Blazers are going to have a ridiculous amount of cap-room this offseason. It is powerful daydream fuel; Maybe sign a couple free agents, potentially draft the #4 pick in a damn good draft...Portland can allow itself the privilege of hope again. Maybe in a couple of years, things will get back to normal: We'll lose in the 2nd round of the playoffs to a team whose management isn't a giant clusterfuck.
Here's something I want to see tonight. Luke Babbitt not dribbling. EVER. His job is to run around behind the three-point line like it's made of lava, and wait for everyone else on the floor to confuse him for an overgrown ball-boy. And then he is to recieve a pass from a teammate, and he is to immediately chuck up a three. No hesitation. It is a pretty cushy job. There should be no problems fulfilling those responsibilities.
And now, we wait for the barbaric yawp of celebration when Gerald Wallace is introduced.
Kurt Thomas is in charge of choosing tonight's warmup music. He chooses Go by Triple C's, Rick Ross & Birdman. I refuse to believe he chose this. It conflicts greatly with my belief he goes home after a game, and settles his roots in for a nice, relaxing entmoot, by sliding on some vintage Koss headphones, and listening to the Two Towers soundtrack on a continuous loop.
This is what the building looked like with three minutes to go:
11:30 - Johan Petro of the Nets draws first blood with a goofy looking jumper from the top of the key. Aldridge wastes no time getting his name on the scoreboard with his patented fadeaway. Kris Humphries finds himself with the ball on the next possession. I don't think the crowd recognizes him. He gets tangled up in the mass of elbows, chest and sweaty scowl that is Joel Przybilla. The foul is called on Joel. The announcer calls Humphries name as he steps to the line. NOW they recognize him. They boo loudly. He gets both free throws, and the Nets capitalize on a Blazers turnover, leading to Wallace's first score of the night. It appears that cheer at the beginning of the game is the only cheer Wallace is going to get tonight. Felton rattles home a shaky jumper on the other end, Humphries answers with a runner, and Felton steps up game, drains a trey from the corner. The cheer goes up - but it's subdued. A strong subsection of the crowd booed him during introductions. If he wants to win these guys back tonight - he might have to not miss a single shot. AT ALL. Speaking of not missing a shot - Batum takes his first, hits his first, from beyond the three. 10-8, Blazers.
(that might have been the single longest liveblog entry I've ever done. This game is moving QUICK)
7:41 - Head Coach Avery Johnson calls a timeout, because the game is getting ugly and Avery Johnson dislikes really ugly basketball, which seems crazy to me because he played for the Spurs for a very long time, and now he coaches Kris Humphries every day. Our scheduled bout of ratball broke out early, leading to players just falling down for no reason, Wesley Matthews trying to go coast to coast with three Nets draped on him the whole way, and Nicolas Batum missing Przybilla in the low post from a distance of five feet with one defender.
So the next play out of timeout, the ball is inbounded to MarShon Brooks of the Nets, who immediately picks up his dribble, has nobody to pass to, and tries to drag his foot to a nicer, better position on the floor, as if EVERYONE IN THE BUILDING isn't looking at him. The travel is called. Avery Johnson responds by just looking down at his shoes for 30 seconds. The frustration radiating off of him warms me.
5:58 - Przybilla picks up his 2nd, so J.J. Hickson checks in. Humphries hits another two free throws, leading all scorers with 7 points. LaMarcus doesn't even try to put a move on him next time down the court, just nakedly busts a jumper right in his face. Humphries tries to answer on the other end, and Aldridge spanks it out of the air. The ensuing trip down the court ends in a Wesley Matthews three. 17-11, Blazers.
3:40 - Felton is trying to get Hickson involved, offensively, but dude is just not capitalizing, mostly spinning and running into double teams. Felton finally catches him cutting backdoor, lobs him the pass, but it's slightly behind him, and he almost twists himself in half just trying to catch it - but he tips it back to himself, stays inbounds, and when he puts it nicely off the glass on the 2nd attempt, the crowd reacts as if he actually bammed it down. 19-13 Blazers.
2:52 - Basically, everyone but Wesley Matthews has come out of the game: Jonny Flynn, J.J. Hickson, Jamal Crawford, and last but not least, LUKE BABBITT has entered the game. The crowd liked that part the best.
Let's see if he sticks to the game plan.
(10 seconds later)
He does not. In fact, he hipshots a fucking ALLEY OOP about 10 feet above the hoop. To Hickson's credit - he almost got it. 21-15, Blazers.
1:26 - Nolan Smith checks in for Wesley Matthews after Babbitt once again DOES NOT STICK TO THE PLAN. He catches the ball, and then tried some goofy looking pump fake thing that failed utterly and luckily bounced out of bounds off the Nets. Dude: YOU CATCH THE BALL. YOU SHOOT THE BALL. THAT IS THE PLAN.
:06 - It's less than 10 seconds, so that means if Jamal Crawford is in, he's going to dribble aimlessly for a few seconds before running in the direction of the basket and chucking up something-off kilter. Except he dishes to Babbitt, who IMMEDIATELY zips it right back to a driving Crawford. A well-executed give-and-go that shocks the shit out of everyone in the building. Until the ensuing layup skids off the rim and the horn sounds. 21-17, Blazers.
11:31 - Jamal Crawford gets bailed out by the refs after driving directly at Crash Wallace and getting his shit knocked out of his hands. The next trip down the court, DeShawn Stevenson finds himself all alone beyond the arc. He hits the three, and wears a Three-Monocle as he jogs downcourt. It is mildly amusing. Not as amusing as the isolation play that Luke Babbitt ran for himself against Gerald Wallace. It ends as you'd expect - with Babbitt shitting his pants halfway through, and getting called for travel. In the meantime, DeShawn Stevenson hits another three, and another two, and the Blazers look like they're on the verge of losing all momentum until - what's this? Luke Babbitt is all alone in the corner? And someone threw him the ball? And he jacked that fucker up within 0.3 seconds of it hitting his hand? AND IT DROPPED? WHADDYA KNOW. 26-25, Blazers.
8:27 - I swear, Luke Babbitt is not the only person on the court I'm looking at, but when something interesting happens on the floor - he's gotten himself involved. He just saved a pretty bad pass from Hickson rumbling & stumbling towards the hoop, found Jamal Crawford cross court, lasered a pass right in his chest, and the jumper found the bottom of the net. Hell, he's even trying to bang down low on the defensive boards. I mean, he's getting brushed out of the way with all the effort you might put into waving away a subtle fart - but he's DOWN THERE at least. 28-25, Blazers.
8:10 - Aldridge checks back into the game, just in time to watch Crawford run his favorite play: Dribble aimlessly for 10 seconds, chuck up a jumper. It doesn't fall, and Brooks throws a bad-alley oop to Gerald Green. Except he's Gerald Green, so such a thing is a total impossibility. The dunk is impressive. Jonny Flynn trades threes with the Nets, Green cuts through the lane and gets the runner, and on the Nets next possession, MarShon Brooks manages to pull off the first Double Dribble I've seen in a game in about ten years. Avery Johnson begins investigating his shoes very, very intently. I can hear his teeth grinding from here. 32-31, Nets.
5:50 - I believe Jamal Crawford is only allowed to hit shots that fall somewhere on the improbability scale between "The Ending of Lost Being Satisfying" and "Douglas Adams." He just beat the shotclock with such a jumper from the corner for three. 34-32, Blazers
5:08 - Batum comes in for Luke Babbitt. The cheer going out was decidedly less enthusiastic than the cheer coming in. Crash Wallace posts up Aldridge, makes his move, and Aldridge says "Fuck no," - pokes it straight down. Aldridge is now standing 9th all-time for career blocks for a Blazers, passing Wayne Cooper.
Ah, Wayne Cooper.
That's a man, right there. Unf.
3:47 - Aldridge cleans up the board, gets hit, scores the bucket. Avery Johnson calls another timeout, because nothing all that notable has happened, and yet his team is down 9 points. It's not even like they were demonstrably terrible, or that the Blazers were all that efficient. It's like they went into a fugue state of total mediocrity, and woke up 9 points later. 41-32, Blazers.
3:14 - Felton gives it to Crawford, who just stands still. He waits for Aldridge to shake his defender and sky towards the rim. Crawford delivers the oop. Gerald Green says "There shalt be no other oops before me" and smashes the shit out of Aldridge's arms. He only gets one of two. 42-32, Blazers.
2:14 - Remember that fugue state of mediocrity I was talking about earlier? The shit is contagious. Of course, you leave Jamal Crawford out there too long, running the entirety of your offense - that's going to set in eventually. Canales subs him out for J.J. Hickson as the two minute warning sounds. Aldridge gets the ball from Felton and goes right at Kris Humphries. Humphries responds by looking like an asshole. Refs blow the whistle. Aldridge goes to the line and hits em both. 44-36 Blazers.
1:04 - Hickson gets the ball, goes right at the key with no real sense of grace or purpose. He gets touched, he flails like a Muppet, goes to the line, gets both free throws. Humphries responds on the other end with a solid jumper, and he's got 13 on the night. J.J. Hickson goes up for the board off Batum's missed three. He doesn't get the board, but he gets the foul for basically laying his junk on Jordan Williams' back. Hickson comes out for Babbitt as Williams hits em both. 46-42 Blazers.
:14.2 - Avery Johnson calls a 20 second timeout following Wesley Matthews' blown layup. It gives me time to reflect on the play of J.J. Hickson today, and most times I've seen him: People said Gerald Wallace was reckless, but this dude is just all over the fucking place, ALL of the time. I think I've only seen him focused once, and it was that Clippers game. Without that focus, he's a series of significant physical explosions with no real guidance system.
Anyway, the ball is inbounded, Gerald Green gets the bucket with less than a second, Batum can't get a shot off, and the halftime buzzer sounds. 46-44, Blazers.
11:39 - Avery Johnson didn't even put his starting backcourt on the floor for the 2nd half. Guess he doesn't need em - Wallace picks up a Blazer board, and Humphries flushes the dunk on the ensuing fastbreak. The Blazers go completely dry until 10:28, when Felton says "Fuck it" and chucks up a 25 footer from behind an Aldridge screen after the offense has completely stalled out. 49-46 Blazers
9:16 - Crowd's kinda sluggish. DeShawn Stevenson just airballed a long deuce, and maybe three people tried the chant. Maybe it's the fact both teams are playing like this was a half-speed scrimmage instead of a close basketball game. Batum finds himself wide open behind three. You know how this ends. 52-46, Blazers.
8:29 - Gerald Wallace pretty much literally ran circles around Przybilla on the low post. The look on Joel's face was as if the Hulk were being buzzed by Iron Man.
7:37 - Aldridge with the putback off Wesley Matthews' 30th missed layup tonight. I think Wes is maybe 15-20 more missed layups away from letting this bother him. Next trip down the court, LaMarcus decides to try another straight up jumper. It drops. He's feeling himself. The crowd is feeling this 10 point lead. 58-48, Blazers
6:05 - three different Blazers got their paws on an errant pass in the Nets backcourt before Felton came up with it, found Aldridge on the break, and Aldridge put it down with authority. The next trip downcourt resulted in a pick, and Batum running full-speed at the hoop, unimpeded. He tries some dipsy-doo fancy french bullshit and gets his shit swatted. The crowd just went from RARRR to HURRR. However, New Jersey has no idea where the basket is anymore, and Canales has apparently told these Blazers that all you have to do is stand in front of the Nets for longer than 3 seconds and one of them is probably gonna just give you the ball. Aldridge scores as everyone else on the court just watches him, and Avery Johnson calls the timeout. 64-48, Blazers
3:48 - after a three from Anthony Morrow on the Nets end, Raymond Felton puts up the only shot that's been working for him all night: the "Fuck it" from behind a screen after the offense breaks down. It drops. Gerald Green gets another jumper, and Felton pulls the trigger on a half-court alley-oop to Nicolas Batum, who finishes all sorts of pretty. 69-55 Blazers.
2:13 - Raymond Felton: Alley-Oop machine. There wasn't even really a play called. He just crossed halfcourt, nodded at Hickson, who spun off Gerald Green, and bounced straight up in midair, and beat the hell out of the rim on the way down. Next play: Felton finds Hickson cutting down the center of the key, leaves a bounce pass for him. Hickson picks it up, takes one step, jumps off two feet, and leaves the entire basket swaying like lighters during a butt-rock ballad. 73-60, Blazers.
:56.9 - Seriously, if Hickson doesn't get a clean look at the basket, the possession is going to turn into something that looks more like a Mortal Kombat 3 fatality: an explosion of limbs going in every direction. His last two possessions involved him running as fast as he can at the hoop, getting touched, and - if I may attempt to translate his body language - responding with ABLAHABGLAHBLAHBLABH.
:20 - Jonny Flynn holds for the final shot. He appears to be freestyling the final play on the fly. He's not much of a freestyler. He just chucks up an ugly three, which clangs off the back of the rim. Hickson gets a hand on it, and it winds up in Babbitt's possession. Instinct takes over, and the three leaves his fingers with less than second. The lights flash red. The shot drops through. The PA begins playing the Star Wars theme as an image of Babbitt's head on Luke Skywalker's body flashes on the jumbotron. 76-64 Blazers.
11:28 - Nolan Smith begins the fourth quarter by trying to remove Kris Humphries giant cro-magnon cranium from his neck. Humphries had a clear avenue to the hoop, Smith didn't even try to make a play on the ball, just wrapped his forearm around Humphries' adam's apple. Kris didn't even look mad, just sorta surprised. Smith gets the flagrant, Humphries gets the free throw, Anthony Morrow gets an uncontested three. 76-69, Blazers.
9:55 - Kris Humphries gets an open jumper. Crawford goes right at him on the next possession, and manages to make him spin in a complete circle trying to block it. I don't even know how that worked. He got his bearings just long enough to watch the shot drop. On the inbounds, Humphries tries to outlet, gets his pass picked off by Flynn. He jumps up and bodies Flynn to the floor. There's no whistle. The crowd tries to drown him in boos for the next two straight minutes. Canales calls timeout after a distracted, disillusioned Blazers team lets both MarShawn Brooks and Humphries score. Somehow, this Nets team keeps rubberbanding its clumsy ass back into the game, like Mario Kart AI artificially keeping the race close. Thank God the NBA doesn't have blue shells. 80-78 Blazers.
8:27 - Apparently nobody's gonna get a body on Anthony Morrow. He takes advantage of this oversight by tying up the game.
7:32 - Aldridge chases down the brick tossed up by Jamal Crawford after running his favorite play, gives it to a wide open Babbitt - who ONCE AGAIN DOESN'T CHUCK UP THE THREE. The ball finds its way over to Batum, who clangs his three attempt. Babbitt finds himself alone in the paint with Gerald Green bearing down on him. The foul is a reflex. The free throws are both good. Aldridge winds up with the ball, leans back on his defender, Batum goes streaking by, Aldridge flips it to him, Batum says thanks with a dunk. Gerald Green hits another fadeaway, and Wesley Matthews goes right at him on the next possession. Surprise - Wesley Matthews missed his layup. But he got Green to hack him first, and Wesley hits both free throws. 85-84, Nets.
6:09 - Raymond Felton throws the ball in the general direction of Luke Babbitt, jumping up and down BEGGING for the pass. It goes out of bounds off Brooks' foot. At least he threw it off someone ELSE'S leg this time. Aldridge gets called for a shitty little offensive foul. Basketball karma dictates the nets next shot brick. It does. Wesley Matthews puts up another ugly runner. Humphries tries to wrap up Aldridge before he gets the board. It doesn't stop him. The whistle blows. Aldridge puts it down hard anyway, a bit of a sneer crossing his face. Dude is kinda pissed off right now. Canales calls timeout.
5:25 - whaddya know - referees in the NBA CAN call a correct Goaltend. Hickson benefits from the scales falling from the whistleblowers' eyes. 86-85 Blazers.
4:30 - the ball goes whistling around the horn, winds up in Batum's hands, behind the arc. The shot is so pretty the net doesn't even MOVE when the ball goes through it. 89-85 Blazers.
3:40 - Aldridge gets called for a loose-ball foul, going over the back of pretty much the entire Nets team. George Williams gets the benefit, and goes to the line for two. Aldridge is talking. They are not kind words. Williams misses the second, Batum gets the board, and Felton just cross chopped Gerald Wallace in the open court for getting up in his grill. No whistle. There's a minor scramble, Aldrige gets the feed from Felton, and the layup is good. 91-86 Blazers.
2:36 - Avery Johnson calls another timeout after his strategy to stick Wallace on Felton fails for a second time; apparently the refs are content to just watch Felton slap the shit out of Wallace's forearms before finding Aldridge down low again. This time Aldridge misses, but Batum just hops under Humphries, and neatly kisses the ball off the glass. 93-86, Blazers.
2:08 - Felton on Wallace again - Felton skips it over to Matthews, who finds Batum, who gives it to Hickson, who manages to control his kinetic energy into a tight little spin move that drops in over Wallace, flying in to provide help. Kris Humphries barfs the basketball all over himself going to the hoop, and the Blazers go right at the Nets again, with Felton penetrating easily, leaving the oop for Aldridge. But the whistle blows, the foul is called on the ground, and the vicious one-hand catch and dunk is waved off. Damn was it nice, though. Felton goes to the line, hitsone. Rims out the second. Luckily JJ Hickson is just sorta hanging out in mid-air, waiting to catch it and put it back. 98-86 Blazers.
46.3 - There is a man in a giant cat-suit wearing a shitty Mexican blanket, shaking castanets at the crowd and asking them to chant Cha-Lu-Pa. The crowd is the loudest I've ever heard them all night. It is maybe the most disappointing thing I've seen all night. A Felton jumper rims out, and Hickson is again, just hanging out in mid-air. But this time, his putback is waved off, because he went over like 3 backs to do it. The crowd pouts. They wait 15 seconds and Nicolas Batum drains a three, so everyone can go home holding a coupon for warmed-over dog-diarrhea in a rubber diaper. Those three points are the last anyone will put on the board tonight. FINAL: 101-88, Blazers.