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Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview – 3/30

Monday, March 30, 2015

 

Robin Lopez

I know this is where I talk about the Portland Trail Blazers’ previous week before launching into the picks. I try my best to break down just what happened (whether I’m successful at that is up to the reader), with equal parts smarts and snark.

After spending Friday night goofing off, all of Saturday sleeping it off (no, literally; I’m an insomniac, so I go through this every several weeks or so), then spending the last few hours watching WrestleMania with my brother (Seth Rollins … guy’s a rat, isn’t he?), I’m quite tired, and almost unequal to the task. 

I was extremely sad to check the schedule and see the Blazers had a game tonight … meaning I actually had to drag my butt to the computer and work.

Well, let’s get to it.

Time for picks! Let’s go! (All games on AM 620 radio, all stats per NBA.com)

Monday, March 30: versus the Phoenix Suns, CSNNW, 7:00 PM

The Skinny: Portland just played these guys Friday, ending a seven-game losing streak in the Valley of the Sun and Extremely Old Retired Folks. LaMarcus Aldridge was gigantic in that game, basically doing what superstars do and dragging his team, by hook or by crook, to the victory.

In our recent Blazers-themed Roundtable, we were asked what or who has had the largest impact on the Blazers’ season. The other guys answered with Damian Lillard’s play, or Robin Lopez being the rim protector, or the trade for Arron Afflalo, or even with Wesley Matthews’ injury…which happened a couple days before that article went up.

With respect to the other guys (Patrick, in particular. Sharing a few drinks with someone who knows sports is a great way to waste time!), those factors they named either are diminished or nonexistent without LaMarcus Aldridge. It may be the obvious thing to say, but it’s also the right thing to say. Going out to left field for the sake of going out to left field isn’t my thing.

His play has been, and always has been, the biggest thing going for the Blazers this season. Without Aldridge, the Blazers don’t have a Northwest Division title (all but assured now). They don’t have a playoff spot. They don’t have a frickin’ chance.

When marveling at Lillard’s clutchness, or Lopez patrolling the lane like the world’s largest traffic cop, keep what I said in mind.

Key Matchup: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. the Suns. Phoenix gets a second chance to stop this guy. Hopefully they don’t do what Denver did on Saturday, and single-cover him with a smaller man.

Seriously Denver, Kenneth Faried? Jusuf Nurkic? Wilson Chandler!?!?

Prediction: The Suns are still on the fringes of the playoff race, but they might be out of gas; the loss to the Blazers Friday had a “last nail in the coffin” feel to it.

Portland wins.

Wednesday, April 1: versus the Los Angeles Clippers, KGW, 7:00 PM

The Skinny: Portland and the Clippers are fourth and fifth in the West, but since the Clips have two more wins than the Blazers (LAC is at 49-25, Portland at 47-25), they’re currently would have home-court if the playoffs started today.

Unless the San Antonio Spurs can supplant Los Angeles (pray they don’t), this will likely be the playoff opponent for the Blazers. Obviously, this game is huge, not just for standings and home-court, but to see how the teams measure up.

Buckle up.

Key Matchup: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Blake Griffin. The Clippers have done well to stay afloat when Griffin was out after he had surgery to take care of a staph infection in his elbow, with Chris Paul raising his game a level and DeAndre Jordan going nuts. Now that their blue-chip power forward is back, the Clippers look to make some serious hay, and not flame out in the postseason.

Just how important is Griffin to the Clippers? His traditional stats aren’t all that impressive; sure, five assists per game for a big man is great, but a big guy averaging 17 and eight with sub-50% shooting, taking a bunch of jumpers, can’t be all that good, right?

The advanced stats reflect Griffin’s outsize impact on the game more accurately. The Clips have the best offensive rating in the league at 109.6, but when Griffin’s on the court, that number soars to 114.5, and when he sits, that number plummets to 102.7, which would be league-average. 

That means Los Angeles is five points better when Griffin’s on the court, and seven points worse when he sits. In the month of March, that number is even larger, with the Clippers posting a 117.5 rating on offense whenever Griffin’s played in March.

Oh, and the Clippers have gone 7-1 since Griffin’s return.

Blake’s always been a horrendous defender, though, and he does nothing to help the Clippers on defense, where their rating places a lackluster 18th in the league, the worst of the eight teams in the West that would qualify for the playoffs today.

Despite the presence of Jordan, and the big bodies coach Doc Rivers has on the bench that can supply six quick fouls and a few bruises (and maybe a pull on those thumbs when the refs aren’t looking), Aldridge must make Los Angeles pay on defense. Get those quick fouls, draw Jordan out of the paint, and if Rivers is foolish enough to put Griffin on Aldridge, shoot over the T-Rex arms of the Clippers forward.

If these teams do end up playing each other in a couple weeks, Aldridge-Griffin will decide it.

Prediction: I have to pick? The Blazers are at home, and are reviving, but the Clippers have won seven straight and don’t appear to be slowing down.

I do like a good heel, though. Wrestling heels make the show, and the Clippers are douches to the core, like Seth Rollins. 

The Clips Curb Stomp the Blazers, then enjoy home-court when they meet in the playoffs.

Friday, April 3: @ the Los Angeles Lakers, ESPN, 7:45 PM

The Skinny: The following is a letter to the Four Letter Network:

Dear ESPN,

STOP SHOWING THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS ON NATIONAL TELEVISION. If the hopelessly incompetent National Football League (said with dumb jock voice) can implement flex scheduling in their national night game on NBC, is it too much to ask for flexing on Wednesday and Friday nights? TNT can also stand to flex a few games out on Thursdays too.

I’m sure most folks that aren’t idiot Lakers fans would rather see the Atlanta Hawks, or Anthony Davis, than the worst Laker team in that franchise’s proud history. When the likes of ME feel pity for the Lakers, you know they’ve reached a new level of pathetic.

Do we really need to troll the Lakers more? Just put them out of their misery so they can strike out in free agency again this summer.

Sincerely, 

Jared Wright of Oregon Sports News

Key Matchup: No. Just…no.

Prediction: Blazers win. Moving on.

Saturday, April 4: versus the New Orleans Pelicans, CSNNW, 7:00 PM

The Skinny: Like the Suns, the Pelicans are fading fast from the playoff chase. Despite Davis’ heroics, and historic stats (he’s about to be the all-time leader in single-season PER…at 21 years old. Again, at 21 years old.), New Orleans won’t be able to take advantage of Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka getting hurt for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

If the Pelicans front office doesn’t do enough to improve the team in the next couple years, I guarantee Davis will remember this season, and use it against the Pelicans. Due to his status as a restricted free agent, New Orleans has not only the right to make the first offer to Davis, but the right to match any other team’s offer. They will, to be really obvious, keep him at all costs.

Davis, like Lillard, is eligible for the rookie extension after this year, but unlike Lillard, signing it isn’t a foregone conclusion. Davis might even go the Greg Monroe route, and sign the one-year qualifying offer, and become unrestricted after his fifth year in the league.

Davis is far too nice a guy to go that route, but stranger things have happened, and if New Orleans cannot surround this once-in-a-generation player with enough talent to compete nightly…well, they may suffer the consequences.

Key Matchup: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Anthony Davis. Davis has been the only guy all year who’s consistently shut Aldridge down this year, with those long, long arms, great instincts, and unparalleled athleticism for a man that large taking away the be-all, end-all for the Portland offense.

Davis is averaging 25/10, with three blocks a game, on 54% shooting from the field and 81% from the free-throw line. His percentage from midrange is a solid 44%, and he’s shooting a totally ridiculous 71% from the restricted area; if Davis took nothing but dunks like DeAndre Jordan and Dallas’ Tyson Chandler, Davis would be leading the league in field-goal percentage instead of those two titans of the roll play.

The only things Davis can’t do on offense is create consistently for others and shoot the three-pointer, and the three-pointer may happen soon; I think I mentioned that he’s just 21 years old. As for defense, he can do it all, guarding everybody from Chris Paul to Marc Gasol, contesting three-point shots, protecting the rim, spiking away shots, all with effortless grace. Only Davis can make somebody think of basketball as ballet.

People used to say that Michael Jordan wasn’t successful in the eighties because he didn’t have a team mentality. Larry Bird refuted that, saying Jordan didn’t succeed in the eighties because he didn’t have a team. Despite being the best individual player on the planet, Mike couldn’t make headway in the rugged East until Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant matured, and Phil Jackson became coach.

Davis is already the best individual talent in the league; how else can he be an MVP candidate despite his team not being in the playoffs? Unless he gets himself a Pippen, a Grant, and a Jackson, Davis could face the same tough road in today’s West as Michael Jordan did in the 1980s-era East.

Prediction: Portland’s so dependent on Aldridge, if he can’t get his efficiently, their offense goes under, no matter what Damian Lillard does. Davis never makes things easy.

Unless the Blazers catch fire from deep, this game will end poorly for them. New Orleans wins, keeping their faint playoff hopes alive for another day…while hoping Portland can beat Oklahoma City for them later in the month.

Last week, the Blazers and I both went 3-1. I predicted that they’d lose to Utah, but Portland somehow squeezed out a much-needed win.

That’ll be the Blazers’ M.O. for the rest of this year: scrap, scrap, and scrap some more. Here’s hoping they don’t run out of gas. 

We know they won’t ever be short on guts.

Trail Blazers’ Record: 47-25 (5th in West by record)

Jared’s Picks Record: 45-27

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.
 

 

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