Portland nearly accomplished the impossible yesterday afternoon; stealing a road win in Denver. Alas, it was not meant to be. After trailing by double figures for most of the game, the Blazers brought it back to a 4 point deficit with just 3 minutes remaining, only to be vanquished by a late surge from Ty Lawson. The loss put the Nuggets at 37-3 at home this season (a Denver record) and extended the Blazers’ losing streak to 11.
So let’s grade the Blazers’ efforts in areas of excellence and deficiency to see what went wrong and what went right.
- Portland shot over 46% as a team, which is right about where you’d expect them to be. Aside from Luke Babbitt (1/7), no one in particular seemed to be struggling. They did jack up more 3 pointers than I would have liked, but for the most part it worked to their favor. Lillard can be feast or famine at times, but he was certainly shooting well yesterday. Without Aldridge, Batum, or Matthews, if Lillard can’t hit, the game won’t even be competitive, so checking that box is of utmost importance.
- Portland has been driving me nuts with one offensive shortcoming more than any other lately; they eat up the clock. Every possession is a mess of blown screens, falling for traps, and passed up good looks. So much so, that by the time they hoist up the rock, it’s a necessity. This not only means a more difficult shot, but that the shooter isn’t always who it should be. The Blazers were fortunate to have their shots drop, because many of their opportunities came with a high degree of difficulty and a lot of wasted time. When you take the full 24, there needs to be a sense of deliberation. Portland’s helter-skelter trial and error has been their worst enemy.
- Now there’s a concept. To be fair, the Blazers were missing 3 of their 4 best players again. But the show must go on, no matter how ugly. In the absence of adequate wing defenders (Batum and Matthews) Andre Iguodala and Evan Fournier had a field day. The Nuggets are not a 3 point shooting team, but you wouldn’t have known it in yesterday’s game. Fournier, a rookie out of France, set a career high 24 points at our expense, including 3 treys. Portland was tired and late to step out on shooters. That’s not to say they only struggled at the arc, but interior defensive problems are nothing new for the Blazers.
- The Blazers turned the ball over 21 times. If you’ve diligently kept up with my pseudo-heresy (or just paid close attention during games), you may already know that Lillard has a hard time coping with the double team. Well, Denver was quick to exploit this, forcing 8 of those 21 turnovers by smothering the rookie point guard. Fortunately for Portland, Denver was equally sloppy with 21 TO’s of their own, but that’s no excuse. The ball changed directions so much it seemed more like a tennis match.
- I was actually pretty pleased on this front. The Blazers may have gotten off easy with Denver forward, Kenneth Faried, leaving the game almost immediately with a sprained ankle, but they’ll take what they can get. Actually, I’d like to single out one guy in particular to commend. Will Barton had just as many rebounds as J.J. Hickson! The 170 lb guard reeled in 9 boards yesterday. He just knows where to be, and I love it. Even on the offensive glass. As a team, Portland fell just 2 rebounds short of Denver, which is no easy feat; especially without LaMarcus.
- While the 2nd half run was pretty impressive, it was partially due to unforced Denver errors. This game was never supposed to be as close as it eventually was, so in that regard, it wasn’t so bad. The Blazers have a lot to work on though, and just 2 games left to snap this losing streak before the season ends. In order to win with their remaining healthy players, they must play more structured offense, move the ball well without turning it over, and find a way to prevent easy shots on defense. The Clippers are up next on Tuesday.
Portland: (PG) Damian Lillard – 30 Pts, 5 Reb, 6 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 Blk
Denver: (SG) Andre Iguodala – 28 Pts, 7 Reb, 9 Ast, 3 Stl, 3 Blk