5-12 Portland at 6-10 Memphis

Portland is coming off a 21 point loss. Memphis is coming off a 29 point win. Portland is 0-11 on the road, riding a 4 game losing streak (and 9 of their last 10) while Memphis is up 3 of their last 4. Everything is in place for a Memphis blow-out win.

They have players who give Portland fits...Rudy Gay went off in the first meeting, Pau Gasol turned his season could be a long night.

Adding to Portland's misery is the way they cannot seem to have anyone other than Aldridge have back to back good games. If things go according to form, Outlaw and Webster will disappear, Aldridge will bounce back from a rare bad game, and Portland will lose handily.

However...Portland should come into this game angry. This is gut check time. Unlike Ring Night when Portland gave the Spurs a run for their money...and could have won...they were never in the game against San Antonio. The Blazers have had a long run of playing other teams when their best player is out (Agent Zero, Adam Morrison, etc.) or having a horrible game (Iverson, Nowitzki twice, etc.) and still pulled off a horrific defeat. Duncan was never a factor and Portland still got blown off the court.

Portland needs to come out angry, put the hammer down, and play their hearts out. They need to play tough, aggressive defense, get the ball inside to their scorers, and make the shots. If they get a lead, they need to show a killer instinct and expand the lead instead of allowing Memphis back into the game.

If the Blazers come out with fire in their bellies and get the Grizzlies to miss a few shots early, this will be the game where they get the road monkey off their back. If not, they will get blown out yet again.

This is a tricky game. Everything I think about basketball points to a Blazer win. I stubbornly hold out the argument they are a better team than Memphis despite a plummeting record. They were just embarrassed and should come out strong. Memphis should come in overconfident after a team record tying blow-out win. You would expect Portland to rise up and make a statement.

However, the one thing we know about losing streaks is they tend to become self-perpetuating. A team might even build a lead...but when the opponent makes the inevitable mini-run, then the team in a long-term struggle thinks, "Here we go again." That key confidence component disappears. They rush their shot or take a bad shot trying to turn things around. Then they make a turnover. A mini-run turns into a monster run. Now the confidence is destroyed. Good shots rim out. Bad shots whiff everything. Defense suffers.

And the only thing that stops it is someone stepping up, overcoming the pressure and having a positive game. This is a key stretch for the Portland franchise. They have a long home stand coming up. They need to rebuild their confidence and find a way to get a few wins. That includes breaking through on the road. We will see whether they can or not. More and more it looks like my pre-season prediction of playoffs was way off base and a better prediction would be "lots of ping-pong balls in the lottery". I hope I am wrong.

San Antonio 100, Portland 79

How would Portland respond to a game when not even once in 4 quarters could they eclipse the 25 point mark?

By throwing up the worst game of the season.

Roy scored 4. Aldridge doubled him up...but shot just 2 of 8. Blake added 1 point...and still outscored Przybilla. In fact, if not for Webster, no starter would have hit double digits. Martell was dialed in, shooting 7-11 and scoring 17, more than the other 4 starters combined.

Outlaw went for 17 points and 11 boards on 8-16, a very respectable game. In other words, the small forward combo had 30 points. But otherwise, it was an ugly, ugly performance. Przybilla tallied just 10 minutes for whatever presumes because Portland had so much trouble scoring. 79 points for the game with San Antonio's best player out? Inexcusable.

It was not as if San Antonio was lighting the world on fire. They lost All-World Tim "Whinemaster" Duncan in the second period...and still steamrolled the hapless Blazers. That happens when good teams shoot 48% and bad teams shoot 40%.

Portland needs to find an offense. The interminable pick and rolls only work when you get the ball to good shooters in good locations. When you don't, you end up with a stagnant offense that puts up 80 points a night and loses by large margins. And you spoil nice efforts by Webster and Outlaw.

If Portland can get these performances on a regular basis from Outlaw and Webster, all they would need to salvage a reasonable season would be Aldridge and Roy to have average nights regularly. I don't expect it to happen.

Dallas 91, Portland 80

Portland has actually been going to Aldridge early lately. And he has produced. He made Portland's first couple buckets, then disappeared for long stretches without even getting shots. Still, he finished 4 -5 in the quarter for 8 points.

Portland, as has become their way, struggled to score far more in the second quarter than the first. When you only score 19 in the first, that is a problem. And here is a bigger problem. On a night they are struggling to score at every position but one, the first shot their best scorer got came with 3:32 left in the quarter. And he made it. He would get but two more shots in the quarter, both inside the last 29 seconds (he made one). Portland scored but 17 points.

This is a running theme this year. Portland struggles to get enough shots for their best scorers/shooters. Aldridge is shooting .527% from the field...he should be getting 20 - 25 shots a night or more. High percentage, efficient scoring...they need more of that. Portland should look to Aldridge for maybe 25 points a night on this particular version of the team. Frankly, nobody else...including, surprisingly, Brandon capable of consistent, efficient scoring on this team.

Oh, sure, there are guys capable of the occasional explosive night...Outlaw had 26 one night, I would be surprised if at some point in the season Webster did not eclipse the 25 point mark, Roy is a better player than he has shown so far, Jack has bettered the 20 point mark a few times...but at this point, nobody is playing very consistently. In a quarter where you score 17 points...and a half where you score 36...there is no excuse for getting Aldridge just 8 shots. He scored a third of their points in the first half...they need to ride that horse. They were fortunate to only be down 8.

On the bright side, Portland identified this...and got Aldridge TWO official shots in the third period. He did get to the line twice..and turned the ball four shots for the period. Not enough. On the bright side, Portland "exploded" for a 23 point quarter. Not as many as the 32 Dallas put up...but certainly better than 19 or 17. Too bad the defense disappeared...

So once more Portland holds Nowitzki to 11 points...and once more it does not matter as they lose by a comfortable margin. They struggle to score, putting up just 80 points, and lose yet again on the road. This season started off so promisingly and is sinking pretty quick. It will get worse before it gets better.