As is well known among Blazer fans, Portland (43-23) has endured a mini-slump, losing five of their last seven games. The slump, which encompassed a four-game losing streak on a five-game road trip, pushed Portland out of the third seed in the Western Conference, and dropped them in fifth place. There are a few reasons Portland has endured this slump, as well as two important factors that may make the future bright for Blazers’ fans.
As of late, the Blazers have been VERY careless with their ball handling and passing. In Portland’s last five losses, the team averaged a horrendous, appalling 15.8 turnovers. Teams don’t win often when turning the ball over 15+ times in a single game. Turning the ball over not only wastes your possession, but also allows the opponent to score. However, that is not the only reason the team has been in a slump over the last one and a half weeks.
Portland thrives on the 3-point shot, and often times, those shots are open. Open shots on the perimeter are generally caused by two events occurring in-game. The more common of the two options occurs when F LaMarcus Aldridge gets double-teamed in the post, allowing the team to swing the ball on the perimeter for open shots. If this isn’t the case, the open shots are created by dribble-drive penetration by Blazers guards, such as Damian Lillard and Mo Williams. When Portland is getting and hitting the open shots, the team clicks together like a well-oiled machine. However, if the team isn’t getting or hitting the open shots, things can get ugly.
In these last few games, Aldridge has been struggling shooting from the field. This means teams are not required to double-team him every time he gets the ball in the post. Blazers shooters such as Lillard, G Wesley Matthews, and F Nicolas Batum are not getting the open shots they often take and make. As of late, when these players do get a shot off, it misses. In the last five losses, Lillard averaged 21.2 points per game while shooting 41.2% (35-85) from the field (season averages: 21.1 points on 43.2% shooting). In the same time span, Matthews averaged 15.4 points per game while shooting 39.1% (25-64) from the field (season averages: 16.3 points on 44.3% shooting). Batum, who has arguable suffered the most in the time span, averaged a mere 12.4 points per game while shooting 39.3% (22-56) from the field (season averages: 13.0 points on 45.4% shooting). These players need to shoot better from the field in order to make opponents respect the team’s outside shooting.
Luckily for the Blazers, the schedule lightens up to become arguably one of the easiest in the league to close out the season (click here to see the schedule). Of the teams’s final 16 games, 9 will be played in the Moda Center. Portland’s next three games are all at home, and I think the Blazers should win at least two of the three games. The home stand is followed by a five-game road trip, in which I think the team should win at least three games, if not four. The Blazers will make a pit stop home after the trip for a quick game against the Memphis Grizzlies (38-27), which is a very winnable game. This game is followed by a one-game trip to Los Angeles to face the Lakers, which should be a win as well. After the quick trip, Portland plays three straight games against three mediocre western teams, in which Portland should win at least two. The final road game will be played in Salt Lake City against the Utah Jazz (22-44), which is most likely win. The Blazers then finish out the season with two straight games at home against Western Conference playoff teams, both of which will affect the standings. Portland needs to win at least one of those two games, if not both.
I gave the Blazers a 11-5 record in the final 16 games, which would leave Portland with a very respectable 54-28 record, which will probably be good enough for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
What do you think has caused the slump the Blazers have been as of late, and how do you think they can be fixed? How do you see Portland finishing the season? Let me know in the comments below!
Until next time,