This game was a bit of a mess. It was also a tightly contested, back-and-forth affair with each team exchanging sequences of good and bad. The Blazers led by as much as 12 early in the second quarter but, despite neither team having much in the way of scoring bursts or runs, the Hawks put together enough baskets at the right time. The bad news is the Blazers didn’t look like they were anywhere close to putting things fully together. The good news is that they continue to be in position to win games while they figure things out. No team is perfect throughout the season, and the difference between most playoff and lottery teams is being able to win through your struggles.
So, with that in mind and avoiding sweeping statements and hyperbole through five games, let’s talk about how the Blazers can get better after a loss.
The Hawks deserve credit, especially for their defense. I can’t remember them rotating as well to the open man as they did tonight since they put together their core group. On a couple of Blazers possessions they went Omega Swarm and were seemingly at their man before the ball even arrived. That’s good D, but it can be beaten, just not when the Blazers don’t have enough personnel willing to get inside and get to the line (16 free-throw attempts). Some players are attacking, but it has been infrequent and mostly ineffective. The few times they did go inside-out, they earned open jumpers, but so far the theme of the offense remains an overabundance of ball holding, one-on-one, stagnant offense.
Granted, the Blazers went through similar stretches last season, but it seems like a distant memory to most of us because of the way they finished the regular season blowing teams out, moving the ball and dunking on faces. Speaking of dunks, it might have just been my feed but the Rose Garden seemed particularly quiet and it wouldn’t surprise me if that was true due to the lack of any sustained momentum. Hard to get even the Portland crowd behind a series of made jumper, missed jumper, made jumper, missed jumper.
It was also one of those weird nights where half the time someone put the ball on the floor it would ricochet off a knee or bounce too high or that someone would slip. Brandon Roy had at least three drives cut short because he shook himself with a crossover or behind-the-back, which speaks both to how hard Atlanta had him working and perhaps how much space the Blazers offense had allowed.
The great missed opportunity of the night happened in the middle of the third — a quarter the Blazers would do well to dominate at home (the Celtics do it each and every game) — when Martell Webster scored eight consecutive points off a pair of free throws and back-to-back threes. You know how many shots he took the rest of the quarter? 0. The rest of the game? 1, a last-second heave. Maybe you give him a couple sets of staggered screens and he misses a his next shot, but Martell was the only player to have anything going on offense at the time. Worth a try, no?
Defensively, things were again just OK. Both Oden and Przybilla did fairly well protecting the paint when they were on the court, but that didn’t help a porous effort in transition and a lack of any defensive intensity when Nate went small with LaMarcus at the 5 and Travis at the 4. Other than the two main shotblockers, we’re still seeing guys be a step late when helping and the secondary help just hasn’t been there at all. The D would’ve been shredded to kibbles n bits against the better passing big men in the league. But then again, the better passing big men are mostly on better teams, and the Blazers seem to be playing directly to the level of the opposition, for better or worse.
I’ll mention that Jamal Crawford scored 27 points and leave it at that. He didn’t do anything he hasn’t done to Portland before and he didn’t completely own the game like Carmelo Anthony recently did. Right now it’s more important to worry about the Blazers than who they’re playing and who is scoring what.
That’s a lot of food for thought to sort through, but the primary goal right now should be figuring out the rotation. Oden’s foul troubles haven’t helped, but the merry-go-round with anyone not named Aldridge or Roy isn’t lending much in the way of on-court rhythm. No need to mention any specific names or positions, it’s just a problem right now and it’s possible the players could make Nate’s job easier by playing more consistently.
Aldridge showed up and had a very nice offensive first half while maintaining a solid rebound rate when Outlaw was at the 4. Some strong rebounds in traffic were encouraging, but he seemed to get lost in the midst of things later on and I’m getting the feeling — which needs further analysis — that he could go a long way toward fixing the help-defense problems.
As mentioned, Roy lost his handle a couple times which seemed to throw him off the attack, but he’s not getting much help so the Hawks were able to close down the interior and limit Roy’s ability to drive.
Steve Blake (2-for-10) was a non-factor again after finding his stroke on Sunday. When this offense slows down and gets confused it’s tough for Blake to be very effective as an off-ball player, but he just didn’t affect the game against the bigger Atlanta guards.
Not sure what was going on with Webster, but his disappearance right as he got hot was a little concerning. It doesn’t seem like he’s quite earned Nate’s trust yet as he was on the bench for much of the final period.
Greg Oden played good defense. Greg Oden picked up fouls. Greg Oden squandered some nice looks inside. Greg Oden rebounded the hell out of any flying objects. Same song and dance. Greg was neither a solution nor a problem, but either he’s got to find a way to foul less — and I do believe the longer he plays well and stays healthy the more the refs will give him the benefit of the doubt — or Nate has to let him learn to play with foul trouble and stop yanking him like a bad act at a talent show.
The bench was a mixed bag. Travis hit shots. Yay! Dre Miller had 11 assists, completely saving Portland’s points in the paints numbers (8/22/28/34 by quarter, thanks Ben) but still doesn’t look comfortable. Joel played 20 minutes of Joel time and I have no clue whatsoever where Rudy was. Sons of Anarchy was really good tonight, maybe he was watching that.
All in all, more uneven results and Portland didn’t have enough to eke out a win. We keep saying that these games are offering plenty to learn from, but so far all we’ve found out is that the Blazers have a lot of cream to churn before they can even think about making butter.