The Trail Blazers laid another big egg Saturday night in Moda Center, losing to New Orleans 123-116 in a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicated. The Pels, a .500 team playing without Anthony Davis and on the second half of a back-to-back, dominated the Trail Blazers over the final three quarters.
The roller-coaster ride continues for the Blazers -- the most enigmatic Portland team in many years. Exactly who are these guys?
But the sub-plot of the game was a story of vindication. It was the night Meyers Leonard dumped a big bucket of "How do you like me now?" on his detractors. Leonard, booed in the previous game by some of the home fans, came up big -- hitting seven of his nine shots from the floor, including both his three-point attempts, on the way to 17 points in 15 minutes and 45 seconds. He also went head-to-head with New Orleans behemoth DeMarcus Cousins and gave about as much as he received.
There had to be a tremendous amount of pressure on Leonard Saturday. After Thursday's loss in Moda Center -- when Portland center Jusuf Nurkic came to Leonard's defense after the game -- Leonard became the center of an age-old debate: Should home fans boo their own players? Forget if they have the right to do it -- they do. But should they? What does it mean to be a fan? How are you supposed to react when you are unhappy with a player on your team?
They booed him. They booed him lustily as he got a short shift on the floor and missed a couple of shots, including an airball on a three-point attempt. I've always felt the big thing about the dissatisfaction with Leonard is his penchant for shooting three-point field goals. I run into fans every day upset about this -- as if a man seven feet tall shouldn't shoot be shooting from distance. Never mind the fact that he makes them more frequently than does Damian Lillard during their careers.
The trend in the league is that just about every good offensive player is shooting them, including Cousins -- a player Leonard has had some success guarding. Cousins, the most talented big man in the league, could torture people in the low post, but these days he spends a lot of time on the perimeter hoisting shots from distance. He took seven threes Saturday night in 34 minutes. He's not a particularly good three-point shooter (.325 this season so far) -- not even close to being in Leonard's league -- but he's taken 154 of them in 23 games. Leonard is a respectable .374 in his career from three (Lillard is at .367) and is hitting a sparkling 50 percent this season from behind the line.
Meanwhile, Evan Turner gets consistent minutes for Portland and throws up a couple of three-pointers in every game. So far this season, he's shooting .195 from distance -- but has the freedom to keep playing and launching threes. Without being booed, I might add.
But whatever, Leonard was almost in a put-up-or-shut-up situation Saturday night. It was time for him to make a statement and he did. And in the second quarter, after some physical defense on Cousins and making a few shots -- he had the home crowd in the palm of his hand. The arena was on fire.
Such is the life of a professional athlete. And if the previous stages of his career are any indication, Leonard will probably now go back to several games sitting on the end of the bench watching the others play. His biggest hurdle over the last couple of seasons has been a lack of consistent playing time. Even now, with the team's offense seemingly dazed and confused, I wouldn't expect him to find a regular role.
But it's pretty obvious he can play. He has had enough quality performances to show that.
He just doesn't always play. And that's not his fault.