There still really isn’t a formula for how Portland gets wins, unless you count banking on a furious comeback and clutch miracle threes as a game plan. There is, however, a pretty solid set of variables that tend to play an important role in every Blazer loss. If Portland doesn’t shoot well and they don’t play defense, they don’t win, basically ever.
The Blazers can make up for not being able to hit shots by controlling the flow of a game, making it difficult for their opponent to score, and limiting offensive rebounds. By the same token, they’re not always sunk by poor defense if they can manage to outscore their opponent. But, like I said, if the Blazers shoot poorly and struggle on defense, they don’t win, basically ever.
Portland’s inability to either shoot or defend in Sunday night’s lackluster loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles was never more evident than during a sequence that closed the game’s first half. The Blazers had the ball out of bounds with 19 seconds remaining in the second quarter trailing 53-50. The ball was in-bounded to Luke Babbitt, he pumped-faked at the three-point line, took a dribble to the hoop, and hoisted up a short-armed long two. The ball hit the front of the rim, Lamar Odom grabbed the rebound, and because not a single Portland player was paying attention, Blake Griffin was able to run out for an easy dunk.
It wasn’t a soul crusher, but Blake’s dunk certainly gave the home team the momentum going into the second half. After that, it was pretty much all LA. The Blazers scored 27 points in Sunday’s opening quarter; they managed 34 total in the second half. Bad shot selection (or more to the point, missed shots) played a big part in that.
Here are a couple shot charts to show what I’m talking about (from ESPN’s box score):
Damian Lillard 3rd Quarter
Damian Lillard 4th Quarter
Wesley Matthews 3rd Quarter
Wesley Matthews 4th Quarter
Nicolas Batum 3rd Quarter
Portland is a jump shooting team, when their three main jump shooters can’t hit shots…you know how that goes.
But don’t just at the missed shots, look at the shot totals. Nicolas Batum took a total of five field goal attempts Sunday. He took 15 shots on Saturday. For Nicolas to be effective, he needs to take at least 10 shots, AT LEAST 10 shots. His five shot attempts on Sunday tied for his lowest output of the season, and was only his fifth game in 43 with less than 10 shots. We can’t expect Nic to have a triple-double every night out, but if he wants to make the full-time transition to offensive power-house, he needs to show up more times than he doesn’t. That being said, Batum finished Sunday’s game with eight points, eight assists, and six rebounds.
So that basically covers Portland not shooting well. As for the Blazers not playing defense, the Clippers shot 52% from the field on Sunday night (42-of-82), and gave up at least six points to every Clipper who played not named Ryan Hollins. Hollins was the last man off the LA bench after Portland head coach Terry Stotts waived the white flag. He played two and half minutes and missed his only field goal attempt.
The biggest indication of the Blazers’ defensive struggles were the numbers put up by Blake Griffin (9-of-15 with most of his buckets coming from inside), and the numbers for all of LA’s mid-range shooters (Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, Caron Butler, Jamal Crawford, and Willie Green all had at least three made field goals). Combine those numbers with the shooting of DeAndre Jordan (4-of-6 from the field for eight points in 16 and a half minutes) and Ronny Turiaf (3-of-4 for six points in nine and a half minutes), and you get the picture. Portland couldn’t stop anybody.
Sunday was a rough night for the Blazers, that’s for sure. But the reality of the situation is they’re lucky to have split a two-game series with the Clippers. LA’s depth is much more than Portland can handle. Their inside game is one of the best in the league. And their pace and style of play isn’t an exact counter to what the Blazers are trying to do, but it but doesn’t exactly play into Portland’s hands.
We should be happy that the Blazers managed a win on Saturday against one of the top teams in the conference without having to put up their best 48 minutes of basketball.
Portland has an important stretch of basketball coming up. There next six games are against Dallas, Utah, Houston, and Minnesota, four of the teams that will finish in the seven through 11 spots in the Western Conference. Only two of those six games are at home. A 3-3 split of those games would be ideal (especially if they can take one each off of Houston and Utah, two of the teams ahead of Portland in the standings on the right side of the top eight).
Winning some games in February is much more important for the long-term outcome of this season than taking two straight off the Clippers.
The Blazers close the month of January at home against the Mavericks on Tuesday. If they win, they’ll finish 8-8.
One quick thing:
- I caught a bit of Twitter heat for a gloating a little bit about correctly predicting the outcome of Sunday’s game (OK so I was off by two). Let me assure you that I am a huge Blazer fan. I want them to win every time they step out on the court. That doesn’t mean I actually think they will. Also, I like being right, in the rare occasion that it happens. So I’m sorry for saying the Clippers would beat Portland by 15.