Well, where shall we start? The Blazers played five good quarters over the course of the weekend and three mediocre-to-awful quarters. They shouldn’t have lost to the Warriors, but to their credit, that loss didn’t feel like a loss to a terrible team, more like a loss to a talented team that put things together for three quarters. And the season has proved the Timberwolves to offer one heck of a pick-me-up, so the Blazers had that going for them Saturday night, which was nice.
Since by now you’ve read plenty of recaps and know what happened in these two games, we’re going to go mosh-pit style with Re-Thoughts and throw everything at you in no particular order, individual and team observations alike.
-Consistency has arguably been the biggest issue for the Blazers, not just game-to-game but quarter-to-quarter. They are top four in the league in average scoring margin in the first and third quarters. In the second, 12th. In the fourth, 22nd. Golden State was a good example of this, with the Blazers putting up 37 first-quarter points on the defenseless Warriors, then following up with 15 in the next period. Reasons for these numbers could be the general lack of Oden in the second quarter this year and the Blazers many blowouts, resulting in 4th-quarter garbage time, making the second quarter the most concerning. It’s not like the Blazers are playing bad defense in that quarter, allowing a third-best 22 points per game in the second, they just aren’t scoring, putting up a third-worst 23 points. This may be due to inconsistent play from Rudy and Martell, but they both were better this weekend.
-What kills you about the second quarter against bad teams on the road is that by allowing them back into the game, or to just stay in the game, you let them believe they can beat you. They get “The Look”. The Boston Celtics are having the same problem, which is why they almost lost to the Knicks yesterday. More killer instinct would be nice, and that starts first on defense and second by demolishing people in the paint.
-Speaking of Rudy, this was the best two-game stretch I’ve seen from him this year. I got on him for consistency and aggressiveness issues last week, and now he’s attacking the basket and using each sector of the offensive half. He can’t just be a shooter for this team, so good on him for expanding his game. Now lets just see the same activity against teams that play defense.
-I was surprised Steve Blake held on to his starting job after Friday, but it was clear the two-guard lineup had run its course. This should benefit Martell the most, who looked much calmer playing early with the main guys, much more in control, and the result was his best game of the year. Probably helps that he doesn’t have as much pressure to score with that lineup as he did with the Travis-less subs.
-Greg Oden has the 20th best PER in the league right now at 20.8. That’s better than Roy. Still hear a lot of people saying he doesn’t have much of an offensive game, but if that were true, he wouldn’t be getting double teamed, would he? The attention Greg is drawing is a huge step forward, as is his willingness to pass to cutters and shooters. The game is so different when he’s in, when last year he and Joel were much more interchangeable.
-Oden’s been very good, yes, but it still doesn’t feel like the Blazers, Roy especially, have quite developed an on-court chemistry with him. It will come with time, but sometimes it feels that we’ve confused off-court chemistry and general likability with on-court togetherness. We see it in waves and spurts, but rarely does the offense have the same mojo once more than two substitutions alter the lineup. Its also odd bringing this up considering Portland is sixth in the league in assists, but again, this has to do with consistency. And being consistent against Minnesota doesn’t count, because Minnesota leads the league in consistently sucking.
-Remember this game? The Blazers were up by nine with 5:43 to go in the half in Oakland. Seven of their final eight shots of the quarter were jumpers. The Blazers were down four at the half. They also committed five turnovers in that span, but you compound the effects of those turnovers by getting away from balanced offense. Part of me worries that the Blazers are relying too much on Oden for inside scoring and general paint chaos, but that would require some charting to prove. Still, the pattern is that opponents are making their runs as Portland gets jumper-happy.
-The Blazers are still third in points allowed per 100 possessions despite the Blake-Miller experiment, and they are allowing the ninth-least points in the paint per game at 38.1. Having Martell out there to minimize the matchup problems for Blake is only going to help.
-Have I mentioned how terribly awfully no-good very bad Minnesota is? At least they play hard. And Portland’s 23 turnovers against Golden State isn’t too concerning, though annoying, given the Warriors and all their funky lineups force the most turnovers in the league.
You can afford a few losses to teams like the Warriors on the road, and you would much rather lose to talent than to teams sans les abilites. Somebody was going to force Nate to get rid of the two-point lineup eventually, and it just happened to be Golden State. It doesn’t feel like the Blazers have had a truly great, nor particularly remarkable, game yet, but they’re still winning. And I get the feeling things are going to start looking much more consistent now that Rudy and Martell bought themselves some maps and returned from their vision quests in the gorge.