PORTLAND – Well, the change of the calendar year didn’t do much to change the Maine Red Claws’ fortunes.
After a competitive first quarter, the Red Claws were overmatched, allowing the Rio Grande Valley Vipers to race to a stunningly easy 104-81 victory Sunday before a New Year’s Day crowd of 2,911 at the Portland Expo.
The loss was Maine’s fourth in a row, dropping it to 4-10, in last place in the East Conference of the NBA Development League. Rio Grande Valley, winning its third in a row, improved to 10-6.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Red Claws Coach Dave Leitao. “We’ve got a lot of physical catching up to do. We’ve got a bigger job psychologically, where guys are at in their place on this team, where they’re at in this league, where they’re at in their basketball life. And we’ve got to do it in a short period of time.”
The Red Claws’ 10-man lineup included five players who weren’t here last week. Three players — Ricky Davis, Xavier Silas and Jerome Randle — have been here for three games or fewer.
While Leitao said he won’t use the roster shuffle as an excuse — “It’s a decision we made to bring in more talent,” he said — Rio Grande Valley Coach Nick Nurse said he could see the indecision in Maine’s players.
“That’s a pretty good roster they have,” he said. “I was really nervous coming in here (Saturday) night. They need some time to get their new guys in sync.”
The Vipers didn’t let that happen in either of the two games.
Even though the Red Claws had the early lead Sunday, the Vipers were ready to strike. And when they did, it was in stunning fashion.
The Red Claws came back to tie the game at 28 with 7:39 left in the second quarter on a jumper by Paul Harris. The Vipers responded with two quick baskets, then Maine’s Anthony Kent drove left for a short jumper that made it 32-30 with 6:35 left.
The Red Claws didn’t score again in the period.
The Vipers shifted into high gear, running with every defensive rebound. The Red Claws’ defenders trailed badly and the Vipers got layup after layup after layup.
“We try to run at every opportunity,” said Nurse. “We got some steals and some blocks and some rebounds and the opportunities to run were there.”
Throw in a couple of 3-pointers, the last one by Kelvin Lewis with 23.8 seconds remaining, and it translated into a 52-30 halftime lead.
“We didn’t play any defense,” said forward Paul Harris. “Including myself.”
The Red Claws had more turnovers (10) than points (eight) in the quarter. In fact, it was a franchise low for points in a quarter. The 30 points tied the low for points at the half.
Lewis opened the third quarter with another 3, making it 55-30, before Harris scored on a backdoor cut, ending a scoreless skid that lasted 9:08. But there was no catching, or even coming close, to the Vipers.
The lead would eventually reach 32 in the third quarter as the Vipers seemingly did whatever they wanted offensively as the Red Claws were overmatched.
Now it’s time to regroup starting, said Leitao, with today’s practice — a day that was originally scheduled as an off-day. Roles will be defined. Fundamentals will be stressed.
“We’ve just got to get better in practice,” said Kenny Hayes. “This will be the first time we practice with this group of guys. We’ve got to learn each other’s game and learn how to play well with each other.”
NOTES: The Red Claws went 14-34 in the 2011 calendar year. … The Red Claws head to the Southwest for games at Austin (8:30 p.m. Thursday), Tulsa (8 p.m. Saturday) and Frisco, Texas, against the Legends (4 p.m. Sunday). After that, they head to the D-League Showcase in Reno where they will play Sioux Falls on Jan. 10 and Bakersfield on Jan. 11. Both games will be live on NBA-TV, starting at 1 p.m.
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: