As we get closer to the playoffs, it would seem that the Portland Trail Blazers (45-32) are everybody’s pick to upset a first round opponent. Between their big men, their athletic wing players and their guard play, it’s rather tough to disagree. But before any of that happens, Portland will have to play against the Golden State Warriors (33-44) tonight who will be looking to win back to back games after defeating the Dallas Mavericks last Saturday.
The Trail Blazers are a tough squad to match up with for most teams because of LaMarcus Aldridge’s amazing offensive prowess. He scores from the high post and also on the low block and thus gives opposing big men a lot of fits. And yet, Portland is averaging 96.5 points per game (23rd in the NBA) on 44.8 percent field goal shooting (24th in the league).
One struggles to understand why a team that on paper seems so talented offensively would have problems putting points on the board. Add to that the fact that they only average 13.1 turnovers per game (fourth best in the NBA) and do a great job of getting second chance opportunities as evidenced by their 12.1 offensive rebounds per game (fifth in the league) and it could leave your head scratching.
For all of their athleticism and team oriented play, the Blazers are a jump shooting team. We like to think of players such as Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum and Wes Matthews as strong driving players that get to the basket with relative ease, but the truth is they spend a lot of time camped out away from the basket firing midrange and long range shots. Making matters worse, they do not get out in transition much, which is a travesty.
With Andre Miller leading the break and players such as Fernandez, Batum and Wallace filling the lanes, this team should be equipped to get out in transition and run teams off the court. However, Nate McMillan’s philosophy is to keep things in the half court and selectively get out on the break. The end result is a team that scores an anemic 9.9 fast break points per game (29th in the NBA).
Given the fact that the team is jump shot happy and fails to get early offense opportunities, you are left with a team that gets very few easy scoring opportunities. Indeed, the Trail Blazers score 40.9 points in the paint per game (19th in the NBA) and try to complement that with 34.4 percent shooting from 3-point range (23rd in the league).
Although the team’s versatility is not necessarily always obvious on offense, it stands out; check that, its jumps out at you when watching them compete on defense. On the season, Portland surrenders 94.7 points per game (sixth best in the NBA) on 46.8% field goal shooting (21st in the league).
While the team has a good defensive anchor in Marcus Camby, they also have talents like Nicolas Batum, Gerald Wallace and LaMarcus Aldridge that can defend at least two different positions and thus complicate the life of opposing offensive players. Their length, speed and quickness at their respective positions allow them to beat opponents to spots on the floor and also jump passing lanes and force opponents into miscues. Indeed, the Blazers generate 15.8 turnovers per game (third most in the NBA behind Memphis and Golden State).
Their versatility as well as their size (Aldridge and Camby are pretty big players) allows them to defend the paint rather well. On the season, the Blazers yield 40.1 points in the paint per game (12th best in the association) and surrender 23.1 free throw attempts per game (sixth least in the NBA). One can observe this versatility in their man-to-man defense but it just seems to be all that more obvious when they are in the zone.
It’s not something they do often, but at times while in their zone defense they will have players switch positions and assignments on the same defensive possession. Camby and Aldridge can at times alternate between guarding the paint and defending the lower baseline while Wallace and Batum can switch from defending the top of the key and the lower baseline. Even Brandon Roy will at times go from one spot to another in their zone.
As good as they are at shifting positions on defense, it does cause some confusion at times within their defensive philosophy, which in turn leads to them losing sight of shooters on the court. This explains why they allow opposing teams to convert 36.4 percent of their 3-point field goals (20th in the NBA).
In order for the Warriors to win at the Rose Garden tonight, they are going to have to figure out a way to score in transition. These teams have played each other twice this season, with the home team winning both meetings. The Dubs lost at Portland in December when the Blazers stymied their transition game and held them to eight fast break points.
In the rematch, Golden State scored 109 points on the strength of 28 fast break points.
Portland game notes: In two head to head meetings against the Warriors, the Trail Blazers are averaging 52.0 points in the paint per game.
Golden State game notes: In their two match ups against the Blazers, the Dubs have shot 16-for-39 from (41.0 percent) 3-point range.