A week ago the sky was falling and the walls were closing in. This Blazer team was doomed. The season was over. Things look a little brighter now. Winning two games in a row in heart-stopping fashion will do that. So will shaking the title of “The Only Team In The League To Lose To The Wizards” (thanks Lebron for that one).
Portland closes their season-long road trip in Indianapolis on Wednesday evening. If you can’t remember the last time the Blazers played a home game, you can be forgiven.
In my preview of this road trip, I tried to address whether or not this Portland squad would be able to learn anything useful from being on the road for two weeks. I also tried to address if “The Road” in general was a good place for a team to make improvements or if it just functioned to crush the spirit of young teams and buoy the championship hopes of the NBA’s elite.
Let me say that first and foremost, this trip has taught fans a thing or two about the Blazers. One of those things is that if this team wants to win, they should play for overtime and hope that they score 118 points. That’s a joke, obviously.
But seriously, one thing we learned about this team that maybe we didn’t know before is that they won’t fold under pressure. They may not perform very well some nights, but they are going to play for a full 48 minutes. Another thing we might have learned over the course of the last six games is that the holes in the roster are legion, but there just might be as many solutions as there are problems. Because everybody on the team is going to get a chance to play, everybody will have a chance to step up and make a meaningful contribution.
Just as this season won’t be made or broken by one string of games, neither should this road trip be judged on the outcome of one single game. That being said, beating the Indiana Pacers to answer four straight losses with three straight wins might serve to make us all forget about the last week in November.
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson
Pacers Starting 5: PG George Hill, SG Lance Stephenson, SF Paul George, PF David West, C Roy Hibbert
Portland can play dirty. They can play slow. And they can play sloppy. They can’t really do it on purpose though. The Indiana Pacers are the classic Eastern Conference team, in that they make their money by slowing the game to an absolute crawl on offense and punishing their opponents in the paint on defense. It’s not the style of play in which Portland excels.
As Comcast’s Chris Haynes tweeted, head coach Terry Stotts wants to combat Indiana’s grinding pace by getting out and running a little bit. It’s a fantastic game plan. Whether or not it happens remains to be seen. The Blazers have put up some decent rebounding numbers, J.J. Hickson especially, but against strong rebounding teams they’ve not been super great. Why bring up rebounding when talking about running? To get to a running game, Portland has to really show up on the defensive glass. If they can do that, get rebounds and score on the run, they can win this game.
What to Watch For
- Roy Hibbert. Big Roy was Portland’s main target in the off-season free agent free-for-all. Neil Olshey made a big offer, Indiana matched, Hibbert stayed a Pacer. So far, Roy hasn’t really lived up to the hype that comes with a big-money contract, but his real assets haven’t changed. He’s huge. J.J. Hickson isn’t a real center. Meyers Leonard is a rookie. Hibbert is going to be able to dominant Hickson in the low post. Meyers Leonard will have two fouls two seconds after he checks in Wednesday. Figuring out a way to neutralize Hibbert both offensively and defensively will be important.
- Portland’s shooting numbers. Indiana is the best defensive team in the league. The Blazers have gone through a season’s worth of shooting slumps on this road trip alone. The formula is there for a bad night for Portland. Pay attention to the Blazers’ first period shooting numbers, they’ll set the tone for the night.
- Will the Blazers play loose knowing that this is the end of a bad trip, they’ve gotten super lucky to win their last two games, and they’ve got a serious break coming up. Not much more to say about that.