If we’re going to start talking ceiling within this team, or for lack of a better word potential, then the team of comparison has to be the 2008-09 squad. That team, as you probably remember, won 54 games, and claimed home court advantage in the first round of the Playoffs. Of course it didn’t matter, they lost in 6 games to the Rockets, but for regular season, raw games-won numbers, the 2011-12 Portland Trail Blazers have to be, at the very least, as good as that 08-09 team.
Why do I bring that up, you ask? Because that team began that season 7-0 at home. By beating the Los Angeles Clippers 105-97, the 10-11 Blazers moved to 7-2 overall, and 6-0 at home. If you want to begin counting landmarks on the road to home court advantage in the Playoffs–and let me tell you I think this team has a ceiling higher than just top four going into the post season–seven wins in the first seven home games is a good place to start.
Portland did almost let Tuesday’s game slip away at the very end with a little bit of bad ball handling, a couple missed free throws by Raymond Felton, a couple made free throws by Chauncey Billups, and a few dubious calls/equally dubious no-calls. You can choose to interpret the Blazers’ inability to close this game out in a convincing fashion in one of two ways. For me, it comes down to the talent they were facing. The Clippers fought hard at the end, Portland didn’t give up or get complacent. At least that’s how I’m going to read it.
This Clipper team has it’s weaknesses, but overall they are a very competitive bunch. They took everything the Blazers threw at them, and after trailing by double-digits in the second and third quarter, the Clips were able to make a game of it down the stretch. For the most part, LA was able to keep it close because they have a lot of weapons. Blake Griffin wasn’t spectacular–I’m not going to read the whole play-by-play to verify but I think he only had one dunk–but every time he was left open he made Portland pay. Caron Butler, Mo Williams, and Chauncey Billups helped Griffin out by doing what they do best, knocking down open shots. Chris Paul, too. Although he was almost silent in the first half (zero points only one assist), CP3 remained committed, and in the second half made enough plays to keep his team within striking distance.
More so than anything, that’s how this Clippers team is going to be dangerous. With Griffin they have a young superstar who can get flustered and thrown off his game, but in Butler, Williams, Billups, and Paul you have four veterans who believe that they’re just one big run from blowing the doors off a team or overcoming any deficit. They won’t stop shooting; they won’t stop trying to win a game. Tuesday they almost came back to do it. Coach Nate McMillan acknowledged as much in his post game remarks. “We almost dropped a game here, so it’s something that we have to learn from.”
So how did the Blazers avoid dropping a game? They did two things: They played defense, and they shared the ball on offense. The Clippers are built to run. CP3 is one of the best open-court ball handlers probably ever. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan can out-jump almost anybody. Guys like Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, and Mo Williams basically invented the pull-up three in transition.
Tuesday the Blazers limited the Clippers to only eight fast break points, making the Clips run most of their offense in the half court. Chris Paul is a good half court point guard too, a great one even, but what Griffin and Jordan can do in the half court offense pales in comparison to what they provide a team on the break.
In the second and third quarters Tuesday night, the part of the game clearly dominated by the Blazers, there were a number of Clipper possessions that ended in a high pick and roll that had the ball handler–often Randy Foye or Mo Williams which was part of the problem–trapped in the corner after having picked-up his dribbled and been faced with a double-team from a Blazer big-man who had hedged on the screen.
It’s not an effective pick and roll, because although at least one of your huge guys is undefended or in a bad mismatched, the guy with the ball has no way of seeing them or getting themselves out of pressure. To get a lob up to the rim, you have to first be able to see the rim. These possessions ended primarily in Clipper turnovers, and helped totally stall out their offense.
Along with efficient team defense, the Blazers played very efficient and effective team offense. Well, team offense in so far as the team’s starting five supplied the bulk of the offense. Here’s the starting five by the scoring numbers: Marcus Camby 12 points, Raymond Felton 17 points, LaMarcus Aldridge 18 points, Wesley Matthews 18 points, and Gerald Wallace 20 points. When all five of your starters score double figures, you’re in good shape. Nicolas Batum and Jamal Crawford chipped in nine apiece off the bench, and Tuesday the Blazers showed they are not afraid to share the ball.
There was, however, one downside to the scoring numbers posted by Portland’s starters, and that was their minutes played. All five racked up more than 32 minutes. Wesley played basically 40 (39:53). With another game tomorrow night, that could be something to worry about. The Blazers have so far played two back-to-backs. The first one ended in victories over Sacramento and Philadelphia. The second one didn’t end quite as well, that one included a home game against the Lakers, followed the next night by a road game in Phoenix.
The Blazers do not have to travel for this back-to-back, facing Orlando at home tomorrow night. But, if you want to look at something interesting, something that pertains to that 08-09 season that is probably going to come up a lot as this campaign matures, that team’s first loss in the Rose Garden came on December 9th against none other than the Orlando Magic.
This team has a chance to do what that team couldn’t, starting tomorrow night.
Couple of quick things:
- Luke Babbitt was called back to the main squad after a brief D-League bounce. He had at least one nice game over in Idaho (the highlight package is awesome), and hopefully that kind of thing gives him the confidence he needs to be effective should he find himself in an actual game.
- Minutes watch: 18:48 for Jamal Crawford. Jamal had another rough night, shooting 2-of-6 from the field and turning the ball over two times. He missed his only first half field goal attempt, before hitting a three in the third quarter and going 4-of-4 from the free throw line in the second half. Post game Nate had this to say about Jamal: “What I want to think about doing is get another point guard in there maybe giving Nolan (Smith) some minutes with him to move him around, let him come off some screens. Right now it almost seems like he’s thinking at that point position. We need him to play free. We’re going to need him.” “It’ll happen,” Jamal said of his shooting, “I’m a scorer at heart,” adding “no excuses, it’ll come.” I believe him. You should too. He’s going to have a couple of big games this year, and if you aren’t already, come those games, you’re going to be happy he’s doing it in a Blazer jersey.
- I meant to add this in my last recap, but forgot. So here goes: “His style is dependent on sowing the seeds of chaos, disruption, and recklessness–in principal, it prevents him from learning how to break his fall.” The venerable Bethlehem Shoals on the style of play preferred by Gerald Wallace in Freedarko Presents…The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac. Taken a bit out of context, but a good way, nonetheless, to describe the player that is quickly becoming Portland’s favorite.
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Topics: Blake Griffin, Blazers, Chris Paul, Clippers, DeAndre Jordan, Gerald Wallace, Jamal Crawford, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby, Mo Williams, Nicolas Batum, Nolan Smith, Randy Foye, Raymond Felton, Wesley Matthews