Blazers fizzle in home finale

Utah rolls, 112-91, in last Rose Garden game of short season

By Matt Calkins, Columbian Sports Reporter

Published:

Updated: April 18, 2012, 11:33 PM

 

PORTLAND — Luke Babbitt fed the ball to a curling Jonny Flynn, who hit Hasheem Thabeet on a touch-pass for a dunk.

And there, ladies and gentlemen, was your highlight.

Five months ago, one of those players was an appears-in-blowouts-only reserve, while the other two were living in Houston Rocket obscurity. In the Trail Blazers’ final home game of the season, however, they were the ones best suited to get the irrationally loyal fans on their feet.

No, Portland did not send send off the Rose Garden faithful with a win. The Jazz coasted to a 112-91 victory after leading by as many as 31 points.

And while you are certainly in your right to label the effort uninspiring, in this perpetually disappointing season, do not call it unfitting.

“Since I’ve been here, this is the worst season we’ve had in four years,” said Blazers forward Nicolas Batum, adding that, despite his team’s futility, the fans’ support has not wavered. “It’s frustrating because when I came back in December from France and I took my flight ticket to come over and people asked me, ‘When are you going to fly back?’ I said not before June because I knew we would make the playoffs.”

Batum was then asked why this ended up being the worst of his four seasons, a question he admits he and teammates have asked several times with no satisfactory answer.

As to why the Blazers (28-35) lost this particular game? Well, there are certainly some more concrete tangible reasons there.

First of all, Jazz point guard Devin Harris scored 25 of his 27 points in the first half and knocked down 6 of his 10 3-pointers. He came into the game a career .312 shooter from long-distance who had hit just 66 3’s on the season. He then added six more before the start of the third quarter.

Blazers interim coach Kaleb Canales said that his team’s goal was to try to control Utah’s points in the paint, and that getting beaten along the perimeter is sometimes a byproduct of that focus.

Harris did not disagree.

“It does wonders when you’re shooting wide-open shots. I had a couple of those that kind of got me going, and it just snowballed from there,” Harris said. “Usually when you hit the first couple shots — I think I hit my first three — from there I knew it was going to be a good night.”

Utah (33-30) also had exponentially more for which to play than did the Blazers. With the win, the Jazz moved into the eighth and final playoff spot and lead Phoenix and Houston by a half a game apiece.

Then again, with LaMarcus Aldridge, Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford all sitting on the Blazers bench in suits before the game, it is difficult to visualize a different outcome.

Aldridge shut down his season last week when doctors discovered a labral tear in his hip that will require surgery. Felton likely ended his year Wednesday due to a nagging Achilles tendon. Crawford, meanwhile, was the latest rotation player to sit out for the sake of Portland developing its younger players.

And then there was Batum, who went 1 of 6 in the first half before resting the entire second due to a tender left quad.

“You could see it,” Batum said. “I was hurting the team.”

One of Canales’ motifs since taking over as head coach has been acclaiming the Rose Garden crowd.

That said, the sour taste he left the hometown fans did not appear to peeve him more so than any other loss.

“It’s a tough time with that being game one of the first games season or the last game of the season, it’s tough any time,” Canales said. “I’ll continue to say it, I believe it — we do have the best fans in the world. It’s been a challenging season for us, but we appreciate what they mean to us.”

Portland’s starting lineup was as follows: Nolan Smith and Wesley Matthews at guards, Batum and J.J. Hickson at forwards, and Thabeet at center.

Smith logged a season-high 39 minutes and scored 16 points on 7-of-16 shooting. The one glaring statistic? His zero assists.

Flynn, on the other hand, countered with seven dimes, even if he did manage five fewer points than Smith.

After the game, Matthews quipped, “Our starting point guard had as many assists as LaMarcus Aldridge,” to which Smith joked back, ‘My job is to get it in your guys hands, it’s up to you to hit it.”

This was said with a smile on Smith’s face, but he did admit to being frustrated with his performance.

And it is not like Matthews had any trouble finding the bottom of the net. The third-year guard led Portland with 21 points while hitting three 3-pointers.

Babbitt and Hickson added 16 points apiece.

Portland will play its final three games of the season on the road, starting with the Grizzlies in Memphis Saturday.

Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or matt.calkins@columbian.com