After a three-game losing streak featuring a 30-point thrashing at the hands of the Charlotte Bobcats, a final-seconds defeat by the Miami Heat and a 10-point loss to the lowly Orlando Magic, things seemed grim for the Portland Trail Blazers. Terry Stotts' club was just a half-game ahead of the Golden State Warriors for the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, and only two games up on the ninth-seeded Phoenix Suns; if the Warriors, Suns and the two teams between them (the Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks) kept playing top-notch ball while the Blazers continued to slide, Portland could have wound up on the outside of the West's brutally competitive playoff picture.
The gloom-and-doom worst-case scenario didn't wind up coming to pass. All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge came back from the lower back contusion that cost him two weeks, the Blazers' offensive machine resumed humming and the defense even tightened up (albeit against the non-juggernaut offenses fielded by the wounded Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls and Grizzlies) en route to three consecutive wins that have Portland four games up on ninth-seeded Memphis with seven games remaining, and all but assured of bringing postseason play back to Rip City for the first time in three years. But while Aldridge's return has received the lion's share of the credit for Portland's recent uptick, some members of the Blazers have been pointing their fingers elsewhere — namely, to the top of reserve guard Mo Williams' head.
For months, the 31-year-old veteran has been sporting a "Boosie fade", the short-on-the-sides, long-on-top style of haircut popularized of late by recently-released-from-the-pen Louisiana rapper Lil' Boosie. Last week, though, in the midst of Portland's East Coast road trip, Williams elected to switch things up for a fashion shoot, and the rest is haircut history, according to Jason Quick of the Oregonian:
"The biggest thing with Mo, why he is playing so well, he cut off that horrible haircut he had," teammate Dorell Wright said. "Now he can see the basket. That has a lot to do with it. So I give big ups to his barber for giving him the peanut, John Legend head look."
Added Wesley Matthews: “He finally cut that bull off his head and now he’s hoopin’."
The ribbing has been relentless, and it extends beyond the locker room and into the coaching staff. The consensus is that Williams looks so different it’s like his little brother has joined the team.
"The coaches say, 'We like your little brother even better,' Williams said with a chuckle.
I'm not saying there's definitely a reverse Samson thing happening here. It is, however, worth noting that in the half-dozen games between Williams' return from a right hip flexor strain that cost him two mid-March games and getting his hair cut, Williams averaged 10.7 points and 3.2 assists on 43.1 percent shooting. In the three games since? Mo's up to 14.3 points and 5.7 assists per game on 63 percent shooting. The numbers don't lie: "peanut, John Legend look" >>>> "Boosie fade."
Another number that's gone up a bit, though — Williams' turnovers. He's had 10 cough-ups in his last three games after posting just nine over the previous six contests. We might be able to chalk those up to the hair, too. More from Quick:
When [Williams] got on the team bus Thursday to head to the arena for the game against the Hawks, Wright said he did a double-take.
“When I first saw him — I kid you not — I did not know who he was," Wright said. “He walked on the bus, I was like, ‘Who is that?’ Then we were in the game, in Atlanta, and I swear to God, I didn’t know he was on our team. I was running down the court, and was like, ‘Oh, it’s Mo.’ I guess long hair is not for everybody, man."
It does seem to be working for the Blazers, though, so it'll be incumbent upon Stotts and the rest of the Blazers braintrust to ensure that Mo continues to receive fresh cuts throughout the balance of the regular season and into Round 1. The very fate of Oregon professional basketball could rest on whether all the relevant stakeholders involved can keep Williams free of the Boosie fade. Postseason X-factors don't come any bigger than this.
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