Per @bball_ref, teams w/at least 10 more TOs than their opponents are 10-31 this season. Blazers have won 2 in a row that way.
— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) February 5, 2013
It has gotten to the point with these Blazers where saying things like “this team defies explanation,” or “there’s no formula for their success,” have gotten to be pretty empty and devoid of meaning. Sure those kind of statements are true, this Portland team wins games they are supposed to lose, gets blown out by teams the probably should beat (like the Sacramento Kings at home), and have not shown anything even remotely resembling consistency when it comes to building leads, protecting leads, or finishing blow outs. But reducing this season to those kind of truisms removes all of the fun in breaking down just how odd and unpredictable 2012-13 has been for the Blazers.
Take Monday night for instance. Portland starts off an important six-game road swing with a 100-98, white-knuckle win over the Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis (in the process winning the season series) while turning the ball over 28 times, giving up 40 points in the fourth quarter, and getting outscored 33-to-8 on points off turnovers, 46-to-24 on points in the paint, and 11-to-6 on fast break points. A combination of point differentials like that, and you’d be forgiven if you thought the Blazers got blown out by 20.
To figure out how Portland avoided being blown out, you might look first to the Blazers’ 59% shooting from the field (41-of-70) or their 39% shooting from three (7-of-18). If not there, than maybe look at Portland’s ability to hold the Timberwolves to 23% shooting from deep (3-of-13), or a not so amazing 47% from the field (40-of-85).
The Blazers’ poor execution on the offensive end was tempered some by hot shooting and cushioned by passable defense outside of the paint (and on guys not named Dante Cunningham). Portland’s epic collapse was negated entirely by clutch shooting from Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers’ latest close win was sealed by one made free throw (by Luke Babbitt of all people) on four free throw attempts in the final 21 seconds of game time.
To say that Monday’s win was in any way reflective of what Portland should be trying to do in games this season is a bit of stretch. But a win’s a win, and you take one every time, especially if it’s a win to start a “make or break” road trip.
So if Monday’s win is not one to build off of or one to be emulated, what’s to be taken away from it? It’s hard to say really. That LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard have begun to separate themselves for their teammates jumps out right away. Lillard turned it over two times in 33 seconds with Portland clinging for dear life to a lead that had completely gotten away from them, but other than that, he had a great night. Damian’s 9-of-17 shooting from the field for 21 points just outpaced Ricky Rubio’s 4-of-9 shooting from the field for 15 points. Dame’s 15-footer with 1:53 remaining in the fourth quarter pushed Portland’s lead to 97-90 and stopped 10-2 run by Dante Cunningham, with one bucket coming from J.J. Barea, that put Minnesota within spitting distance of stealing a win.
As for LaMarcus Aldridge, his 25 points on 12-of-17 from the field led all scorers. Like Damian, LA also hit a big bucket, a 21-footer with 27 seconds left in the game that gave the Blazers a 99-96 lead. Unlike Lillard, LaMarcus missed two free throws that would have actually sealed the win for Portland, but putting that aside, the play of Dame and LA is what has kept this team in games, helped this team get leads (occasionally), and, as Monday showed, can certainly do what is needed to avoid disappointing collapses.
And beyond that, there really isn’t much to gain from Monday night (other than a win of course). Portland needs to at least split this trip to stay relevant in this Playoff race. They’re one-third of the way there after one game. With a win likely coming in Orlando and a date with the 15-33 New Orleans
Hornets Pelicans Hornets closing out the roadie, three wins are well within reach.
The task for the Blazers going forward will be to figure out a way to shake off the bad play from Monday that almost let this game get away. In most cases it’s probably difficult to address what went wrong when you’re the winning team. Luckily for Portland, the problems with Monday’s game were self evident. If the Blazers try to keep their total turnovers under 30, they might give themselves a chance for a second straight road win.
Portland has Tuesday off before taking on the Mavericks in Dallas on Wednesday.
Just one quick thing, and that one thing is this:
Aldridge, an 80% FT shooter this season… shoots no better than 63% in the final 5 minutes of close games, ahead or behind #Blazers
— Candace Buckner (@blazerbanter) February 5, 2013