One of the nicest things about the lockout-shortened season is that the games are going to come at us in a hurry. That means that the cringe-inducing moments of Monday’s opening night 107-103 Portland victory over the Philadelphia 76ers will fell like ancient history by the end of this week.
Of course, there’s another side to that coin. Those things that Portland struggled with on Monday will need to be addressed, and there really isn’t going to be the practice time needed to do the proper addressing. The Blazers will have to use games to improve on the small things things that they didn’t do so well their first time out. If Portland continues to make the mistakes they made on Monday as the season goes forward, they’re not going to win very often.
What were those mistakes? In my opinion, it came down to three things: execution, fitness, and discipline. Luckily, these are the type of things that can be improved upon. No doubt coach Nate McMillan will be putting in an all-nighter, and come tomorrow evening the Blazers will be able to shut the door on the Sacramento Kings, and won’t basically give away a double-digit lead in the final quarter.
Here’s my breakdown of what I think went wrong Monday night, and how these individual things can be improved. Starting with:
Execution: This is kind of a catchall. Portland executed very well in the game’s opening half, meaning they were communicating on offense and defense, moving the ball around, attacking the rim, and knocking down open shots. In the second-half the execution slumped a little bit. Defensive rotations were a little slow, the up-and-down offense ground to a halt, the shot selection wasn’t quite as good as it had been. The Blazers needed scores and stops to coast to an easy win. Shots weren’t falling, and Philly was getting great looks. Twice Portland gave up wide open threes to the same player on back-to-back possessions–first to Andre Iguodala and then next to Lou Williams. Not quite end of the game execution.
How does Portland improve on its execution? Easy, play together a few more times. As the new pieces get more comfortable playing together, and as the rotation becomes solidified, hopefully the issues of execution get resolved. There’s little else that can be done, so as an optimist, I’m choosing to not be too worried at this point.
Fitness: Being not unfit, but less fit is a symptom of not playing, just like execution. Nate McMillan wants this team to run, and he has guys that can run. The problem with running this early in the season is that guys will get worn out. Monday Portland came out firing and running. By the night’s final frame there was no running, and more than that, shots were coming up short. Short shots is indicative of heavy legs, which in turn is an indication of problems with fitness.
How is this problem solved? Again, by playing. Actually, it wouldn’t be totally fringe to think that struggling with fitness early in the season is a good thing. Think about it like this: Nate wants his team to run, and in order to run they have to be fit. If, because of the crammed schedule, Nate decides to bring his guys along slowly, there is a chance that they’ll never get to the fitness level needed to be a team that runs for 20 to 25 minutes a night. Getting these guys out and gassed and running up and down the court from day one will definitely pay off in February.
Discipline: This one is a bit of a stretch, but it was something that I noticed watching the game Monday night. There were a couple of times when the Blazers appeared to lack a little discipline. The play that struck me as the most undisciplined was Raymond Felton’s decision to throw a behind-the-back pass to Gerald Wallace on a pick-and-pop. It wasn’t a game-killing turnover, but there is no need to make that kind of pass when a simple chest pass or bounce pass would have done the trick. Jamal Crawford, also, showed a few signs of being undisciplined. He takes a lot of shots, and sometimes he makes very poor choices with his ball handling. It’s excusable I think, partially because he’s a shooter that needs to shoot to get his rhythm. Also he’s damn fun to watch, and Monday night every error in judgement made by Jamal was made right by great offense and a couple of heads-up defensive plays.
How to fix discipline? This is a bit more difficult because it gets down to the personalities of individual players. I think both Ray Felton and Jamal Crawford more than carried their respective weights their first time wearing Blazer jerseys. They’re both great players, and they will help Portland win. But they are also more loose they Blazer fans may be used to. Hopefully they’ll rein it in a bit, but not so much that they’re effectiveness is limited. Especially a guy like Jamal Crawford has a ton to gain from playing in Portland. The fans are going to love him, but if he goes too far off the reservation, there is going to be some backlash. I expect both Ray Felton and Jamal Crawford to improve their decision making. So I’m not worried.
There were a lot of things Portland did very well Monday night. But what fun is spending time talking about that stuff? Right now it’s about the Blazers getting to the point where they can play 48 minutes of high level basketball. They’re not there yet, but I’ll be ready to lavish them with praise when they get there. Stay tuned.
Portland is back in the Rose Garden Tuesday night against the Sacramento Kings. It’s Jimmer time. Are you ready?
Just a couple quick thoughts:
- Portland had six players reach double figures in scoring. That’s awesome. They have a ton of offensive weapons, and Monday they were all on display. LaMarcus Aldridge co-led all scorers with 25 points, Gerald Wallace was next with 21, Wesley Matthews added 16 points, Crawford and Felton contributed 12 each, and Nicolas Batum scored 10. The most amazing thing is that nobody on the Blazers looked amazing from the floor. Wesley struggled in the first half, Jamal couldn’t hit a shot for a solid few minutes, LA shot 11-of-25. As a team, the Blazers were 40-of-97 from the floor and 9-of-19 from deep. By no means blow-your-hair-back numbers. I’m choosing to believe that means that when Portland’s shooters get their legs under them they’ll make shots, and when that happens they’ll blow some people away.
- I’m thinking about putting a minutes watch in my recaps, just because there are so many players on the roster, and each night is going to be full of difficult playing time decisions for Nate McMillan. So here are the minutes to look at for Monday: 20:37 for Nicolas Batum and 21:53 for Jamal Crawford. This is Portland’s bench. Both of these guys are going to have to put up numbers when they are on the court, and both are probably used to playing more than 20 minutes. Nic is not an inefficient player by any stretch, but he is going to have to start looking for his shot. He did that some on Monday, and he’s going to have to do it more going forward. As for Jamal, he is going to have to improve his efficiency. In 22ish minutes Crawford got up 10 shots, the same number as Nic, that’s great, but if Jamal wants to have a big scoring night–something he is totally capable of–he is going to have to find a way to get it done in limited minutes.
- Armon Johnson was listed as inactive on Monday’s roster. Greg Oden was the only other inactive Blazer, and we all know his situation. Could this be the end for AJ?
- In non-Blazer news, or at least in former Blazer news, the Denver Nuggets blew the doors off the Dallas Mavericks Monday night. NBA League Pass is on a free trial, so I had the chance to watch a bit of that game. It was strange watching Andre Miller not in a Blazer jersey, but it wasn’t so bad. I became a fan of Dre long before he became a Blazer. However, there was one guy wearing a Denver jersey that looked super familiar who I couldn’t quite place. Turns out, it was Rudy Fernandez.
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