The Portland Trail Blazers met up with the NBA’s best home team in the Miami Heat. And… it went exactly as we (unfortunately) expected.
The Portland Trail Blazers entered this contest having lost five of their last six, the Miami Heat have lost just once at home all season (16-1). Given Portland’s current trend, you can probably guess the outcome of this one.
The Blazers eventually fell 111-122 to the Heat, and this scoreline was kind in the end, as they trailed by as many as 24 at one stage.
Miami simply moved the ball better, shot the ball better and defended the ball better; they’ve been fundamentally superb this year, and took the Blazers to school in this one.
Damian Lillard led all scorers with 34 points, and particularly showed out in the second half, where he scored 20 of his points and almost got the Blazers back into things. Anfernee Simons also looked sharp, scoring 19 points, including a thunderous dunk in the third quarter.
But ultimately, Portland’s defense let them down, and struck down any hope of a comeback. Here are three takeaways from the contest.
Lineups without Dame and CJ are ugly, and Melo’s post-ups aren’t helping
I wish this was an exaggeration. Carmelo Anthony took over offensive production without the two star guards, and the ball seemed to move even slower than usual.
In the first half, Melo had almost 300 post touches. 300!!! I get not many of the other Blazers are capable of consistent offensive output without Dame and CJ out there, but 300 touches in the post is too much, even if Melo still has some gas in the tank.
Since his return, Melo has statistically shot better on catch and shoot opportunities, as opposed to when he starts dribbling the ball. The more dribbles he takes, the less likely he’s going to score.
I don’t mind the pick and pop action, which usually sees him get a relatively open mid-range, but the Blazers have got to stop relying on the post-ups. He sometimes gets a mismatch, which he should rightly take advantage of, but too many post-ups stagnate the offense even more, and tonight, it was too much.
In the end, Dame ended up playing 41 minutes, and it would’ve probably been a 25+ point win if he had played any less. Melo needs to be on the perimeter more, he’s simply much more efficient out there.
Simons offered a glimpse into the future for Portland’s backcourt
19 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 thunderous dunk over the Miami defense, Simons showed out this evening.
Given Portland’s miserable form this season, the ‘trade CJ’ crowd has been extremely noisy. Whilst I disagree with this take, Simons did prove tonight that the Blazers may be able to survive in a couple of years with CJ not alongside Lillard in the back-court, as the sophomore looked extremely comfortable out there himself.
I expected Simons to earn the start in McCollum’s absence, but Terry Stotts opted for Gary Trent Jr instead. However, Simons quickly proved his worth , as he went about attacking the Heat defense from close range.
He actually started the second half, and was a threat all evening. Simons had a number of tough finishes that reminded me of a young Damian Lillard; add this to his quick release on the three-ball and it’s not surprising that comparisons with Dame have been discussed for a while.
If Simons continues playing like this, I certainly wouldn’t be shocked if Neil Olshey explores the McCollum trade market next summer, as the development of Simons opens up a lot of doors for Portland.
Another .500 team, another loss. And more bad defense
The Dallas Mavericks remain the only team above .500 that the Blazers have beaten this year. Tonight’s game well, showed why.
The Blazers are simply not close to the élite teams in the league right now, and their defense continues to let them down. Tonight highlighted their inability to guard the pick and roll, Hassan Whiteside in particular struggled.
Dame lost his cool with the center when Whiteside showed little effort to guard the roller, but this had no effect. Miami scored 28 points inside the paint in the first half (56 for the game), and were absolutely walking to the rim at times.
Goran Dragic and Kendrick Nunn were the main culprits at the top of the key, torching Portland’s drop defense to gift Bam Adebayo and Derrick Jones Jr multiple open looks inside. It was literally dunk after dunk, and it got tiresome quick.
The sad thing is, I don’t see this before next season unless a trade takes place. The Blazers miss Jusuf Nurkic, they miss Al-Farouq Aminu, they miss Maurice Harkless. Last year, they were a superb defensive team. This year, they simply have no idea.
The Blazers return to the court Tuesday, where they take on the Raptors in Toronto.