Why the Slump? How do we Fix It?

Bruce Ely/The Oregonian

Bruce Ely/The Oregonian

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,

~BlazersBySagar

Blazers Suffer Heart-Breaker in Dallas

Aldridge Over Marion (103-98 L on 3-7)

Tonight, the Blazers came out slow and sluggish. They couldn’t score, pass, or play defense, and at the end of the first quarter, they found themselves down 33-10. Dallas would extend that lead to 30 on 3 different occasions. At half time, the Blazers were down 57-38.

Luckily for the Blazers, this was a game of two halves. In the third quarter, LaMarcus Aldridge caught on fire and the Blazers flipped the switch. In that period, the Blazers lead by as many as 4. The final quarter was a roller coaster. Portland lead by as many as 7 in the fourth quarter, and Rip City was rocking! But then, the refs happened.

With 4:24 left in the game, Portland held a RELATIVELY comfortable 98-92 lead. However, two no-calls, a bad charge call against Blazers G Damian Lillard, and offensive rebound given up changed the game. From the time Portland held that six point lead to the sounding of the final horn, the Blazers let Dallas go on an 11-0 run. Dallas took the lead and never looked back.

Wesley Matthews had a spectacular outing, finishing with 26 points. LaMarcus Aldridge also played well for the most part, but he gave up a very important offensive rebound near the end of the game. He finished with 30 points and 17 rebounds. The back court tandem of Damian Lillard and Mo Williams had an atrocious outing. The duo finished with combined stats of 17 points (6-19 from the field) and 6 turnovers.

The Blazers will head over to Houston tonight to take on the Rockets, who dismantled the Indiana Pacers tonight. That game will most likely have a large affect on playoff positioning in the Western Conference. Coming into tonight, the fifth placed Blazers and third placed Rockets were tied (the Los Angeles Clippers hold the fourth seed — they have a worse record than Portland and Houston, but because the Clippers are a division leader, they automatically get a top 4 seed). Sunday’s game could drastically change the playoff match-ups.

If Portland wants to win on Sunday, they have to come out with intensity and a sense of urgency. They can’t come out as slowly as they did today. Unlike Dallas, Houston will kill you and take you out of the game early.

What are your thoughts on the game? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time,

~BlazersBySagar

Blazer Big Men to Miss Time with Injury

Aldridge-Leonard Injury Pic

It was announced today by the Blazers that F LaMarcus Aldridge and C Meyers Leonard will miss extended periods of time with injury.

Aldridge, who is expected to miss at least one week, is still nursing a strained groin he suffered on February 8 in a 117-110 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. He missed the entire fourth quarter of that game. After the one week is up, Aldridge will be re-evaluated. Leonard is expected to miss 2-3 weeks with a sprained ankle that he suffered today in practice.

These injuries leave the Blazers’ front line very weak. The only true healthy “big men” the Blazers have left are C Robin Lopez and F Thomas Robinson (note: Blazers F Joel Freeland will also miss the next 3-5 weeks with a sprained MCL). That being said, the NBA Trade Deadline is upon us, as teams are required to make all trades final by 3 pm EST on Thursday. While it was suspected that Blazers GM Neil Olshey would not make a move before the deadline, at this point, it would not be ill-advised for Olshey to shop the market for another big man. Regardless of whether Olshey makes a deal, Blazers fans should expect to see lots of “small ball” for the next week.

Within the week that Aldridge will miss, the Blazers will play four games, three of which will be played in Portland. The Blazers will face the San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz, and Minnesota Timberwolves, all at home, before heading to Denver to play the Nuggets. Of these teams, the Jazz are the only one without a legit big man. Regardless, all games will be difficult to win (I’m looking at you, Minnesota).

Stay tuned to Blazers World for any updates on Aldridge and Leonard’s injury status.

Until next time,

~BlazersBySagar

Blazers Falter in “Physical” Game

Kings dunk

Oh my… The Blazers are not playing good basketball as of late. Fact. Don’t even try to dispute it.

In a game that featured 62 fouls and and 86 free throw attempts, the Blazers faltered in Sacramento.

With 5:45 left to play in the fourth quarter, the Blazers trailed 109-93. From that point on, it was Lillard Time. Damian scored 26 of his career-high 41 points in the fourth quarter in a late effort to put Portland on top. Lillard nearly brought the Blazers down from a deficit that once swelled to 19. Lillard brought it to within 2. However, his attempt was futile, as the Blazers faltered in Sacramento.

Final: Sacramento Kings 123, Portland Trail Blazers 119

Until next time,

~BlazersBySagar

McCollum Makes Stampede Debut

McCollum Stampede Debut

Image credit to the Oregonian

CJ McCollum played yesterday in Boise, Idaho for the Blazers’ D-League affiliate, the Idaho Stampede.

He played 17 minutes and was very productive. He recorded 13 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, and 3 turnovers.

Through his play, any viewer could tell he was rusty. Not playing competitively for about a year will do that to any player. To help shake off the rust, he will play for the Stampede again today.

Sources have told reporters that McCollum can make his Blazers debut as early as this Tuesday (January 7) in Sacramento against the Sacramento Kings.

Inserted below are McCollum’s highlights from the game yesterday in Boise (he is wearing #22):

What do you think of McCollum’s play? How do you think he will benefit the Blazers when he comes back? Let me know in the comments below!

Until next time,

~BlazersBySagar

Where the Blazers Are Today

The Blazers have had a surprisingly successful start to the 2013-14 NBA season. After the first 10 games (at which point the Blazers were 8-2), people across the country thought this team was simply a fluke. Their thought was completely fair, as anything can happen in just 10 games. However, this team has continued to prove doubters wrong, winning games against some very difficult competition. However, the question to be asked is why this team is so good, and how are they maintaining this level of success.

Firstly, the Blazers are a very unselfish team. Players are always willing to make the extra pass, and it often leads to open shots along the perimeter, which this team was built to make. For example, in the following clip, both Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews passed up open shots, and in the end, it led to a wide open LaMarcus Aldridge jumper.

Secondly, this team uses the right balance of pursuing an offensive rebound, while still getting back on defense to stop the opponent fast break. A very good example of this is shown in the work that Joel Freeland does. In this next video, Freeland grabs an offensive rebound and dishes it out to Damian Lillard for an open 3 (which, of course, he makes). I apologize for the poor video quality:

However, critics have knocked on this team for being below average defensively. This is a fair claim, as the Blazers rank in the bottom half of the league on the defensively. To add to that, the Blazers give up an average of 48.6 points in the paint, which is the worst in the league. However, the Blazers are the best offensive team, averaging a league-high 108.6 points per game.

In fact, one analyst compared this Blazers team to the 2011 Dallas Mavericks championship team. Both teams revolve around a very good power forward. For Portland, it’s obviously LaMarcus Aldridge. For the Mavericks, it was Dirk Nowitzki. Both those power forwards got support from a plethora of shooters. For Portland, that group includes Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, and Wesley Matthews. On the Dallas team, it was Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and J.J. Barea.

Lastly, I want to call out national basketball “analyst” Charles Barkley. Twice on national television (TNT), he has said he doesn’t think “shooting teams,” such as Portland, can sustain a high level of play, and will not succeed in the playoffs. This has obviously received national backlash on social media, especially from Portland. During halftime of the Blazers’ win over the Los Angeles Clippers, he said Portland would lose. Of course, Portland called him out on Twitter, and one of my friends got his tweet on TNT. The following video shows a little bit of Barkley’s reaction:

 

This team now sits at 24-6 through 30 games, a very nice record. What do you guys think about the Blazers? Can they continue to win and be tops in the West? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time,

~BlazersBySagar

 

 

Blazers Continue to Impress

Lillard and Matthews

How long can the Blazers keep up the level of play they have maintained so far this season. Portland has come out of the gates gunning this season, starting the season off at 17-4.

For starters, Portland has shot the ball from three exceptionally well, shooting 41.8% from deep, second only to the Golden State Warriors. Wesley Matthews is helping that number, shooting a scorching 49.1% from deep, a career high so far. He and his back-court teammate, Damian Lillard, have accounted for 118 from three-point land.

The team is also being very unselfish, often willing to make the extra pass to an open player. The team averages just under 23 assists per game on just over 39 field goals made. That is good for 6th in the league.

The outstanding passing can also be attributed to the team chemistry the team has off the court. Some players were quoted as saying this was best locker room they’ve been a part of, in terms of chemistry. That is one of the reasons Portland is rumored not to be interested in Houston C Omer Asik. The Blazers have been pleased with Robin Lopez’s effort, and he is one of the most loved players in the locker room. He also represents Portland really well (comics and a white guy with a red afro). To read more about the Blazers and their rumored interests in Asik, click here.

Portland is also surprisingly one of the league’s best at taking care of the basketball. They average just 14.4 turnovers. Off those turnovers, opponents are able to get 15.4 points, which puts them in the top 10 for fastbreak defense. However, it is probably something they are looking to improve on as the season goes on.

All this has lead to one of the best starts in history. Through 20 games, this Blazers team sat at a very nice record of 17-3. That tied the second best franchise record through 20 games. The previous time a Blazers team won 17 of their first 20 games was in 1977-78, the year after Portland won its only championship. The best 20-game start in franchise history was 19-1, set by the 1990-91 team. However, if Portland keeps on the pace they are at, they will hold the best record for a Blazers team (winning percentage). Here’s how this season so far stacks up to the other 42 seasons in team history (click on any image in this article to enlarge):

Blazers best start in 21 gamesIn that image, this year’s team happens to be at the best winning percentage a Blazers team has ever finished at. As I said earlier, if this team keeps up the pace they are at (which I think is unlikely), they would become the best Blazers team in franchise history.

What do national analysts think about this Blazers team? Most think that this team is a legit contender for the Western Conference, and that this team is a team that will have home-court advantage come playoff time.

I would like to be optimistic about this team, but the chance of the Blazers maintaining the #1 spot in a stacked Western Conference is very difficult, especially with the upcoming schedule. I’ve put the schedule in image form below (red are home games and gray are road games):

Blazers Schedule 2013-14How do you think this Blazers team has done a little over a quarter of the way through the season (yes, we are that far already)? Are you impressed? What do you expect for this team going farther through? What seed do you think the Blazers will hold in the Western Conference once the season ends in April? Reply in the comments below!

Until next time,

~BlazersBySagar