PORTLAND — Over the past seven days, the Blazers have seen the return of Brandon Roy, the re-integration of Marcus Camby, and the addition of Gerald Wallace.
Never have they been missing more.
For the second time in a row, Portland mistook a late-season home game for a preseason scrimmage — showing little if any fight in a 103-87 loss to the Rockets.
It sat back and watched Houston shoot nearly 58 percent from the field. It wilted as the Rockets scored a gargantuan 52 points in the paint.
Its best player, LaMarcus Aldridge, took just 11 shots and posted a mere 14 points, and besides trailing for the game’s final 42 minutes, the Blazers failed to win a single quarter.
“I don’t recognize that team,” said Blazers coach Nate McMillan, whose squad shot 39 percent two nights earlier in a loss to the Hawks. “I don’t know where our swagger is, our spirit — we look like we’re not having fun. There’s no connection out on that floor. I think it’s way too much thinking going on. I think it’s ‘me’ now….I’m trying to figure out what or why.”
So is everybody else.
Portland point guard Andre Miller suggested that such lulls are inevitable in an NBA season, and as the Blazers take on the Kings tonight in Sacramento, that they should simply try and learn from their mistakes.
Nicolas Batum said that the bevy of changes since the All Star break may be temporarily interrupting game flow — that having All-Star caliber players such as Roy and Wallace in the lineup may be causing other players to defer unnecessarily.
Aldridge, meanwhile, agreed with his coach in that the Blazers were thinking too much as opposed to just playing.
But perhaps Wesley Matthews explained it best.
“We sucked,” he said.
Having lost three of its last four games, Portland (33-27) now sits tied with Memphis for seventh place in the Western Conference, but is only one game ahead of ninth-place Phoenix, a game and a half up on 10th place Utah, and three games in front of 11th-place Houston with 22 games remaining.
Additionally, nine of the Blazers’ next 15 contests will be on the road, and nine of the Blazers’ next 15 opponents have winning records.
Batum is acutely aware that the cluster at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff race makes repairing his team’s issues an urgent matter, and when asked if the Blazers’ lackadaisical play had him scared, he answered “a little bit.”
“Two weeks ago we were the hottest team in the NBA,” said Batum, who finished with a game-high 22 points on 7 of 12 shooting. “We’re not playing. We’re not playing good basketball.”
But Houston is. If not great basketball.
The Rockets (31-31) have now won five straight and were in perfect synchronicity Tuesday. Forward Luis Scola scored 21 points on 10 of 11 shooting. Kyle Lowry added 21 of his own while handing out 11 assists. Kevin Martin contributed 20, Chase Budinger had 14 — and no Houston player that took at last five attempts shot worse than 50 percent from the field.
But it was their team defense, particularly the debilitating double teams they threw at LaMarcus Aldridge, that somehow overshadowed their preposterous offensive numbers.
“That was just a great win for us. I thought we played solid every quarter,” Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. “That was one of the best road wins we’ve had all year.”
Wallace had 14 points for the Blazers and knocked down his first three 3-point attempts. Miller added 13 points and six assists.