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Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview And Predictions – 3/8

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

 

The Portland Trail Blazers’ latest road trip out East could be considered at once a rousing success and a failure, for many reasons. For one thing, anytime a West/East Coast team travels to the opposite coast on a trip, the odds get a little higher against them, especially if the quality of opponents is high. If those quality teams are situated at the back end of the trip, like this one, it sucks that much more.

The trip ended up a .500 proposition for Portland, which isn’t bad for a middle-of-the-road team on a long roadie to the other side of the continent. The way those games turned out, and who the Blazers beat and lost to, isn’t all that surprising; Chicago and Indiana kicked off the road trip, and Portland, still riding high from the momentum gathered on a home-heavy schedule and a humongous upset of the Golden State Warriors, eked past the Bulls and dominated the Pacers.

The Blazers then defeated a New York Knicks team that is of two minds, according to ESPNNewYork.com. Phil Jackson and the front office want wins, but the Knicks should be giving their young players, especially Kristaps Porzingis, as many minutes and as much responsibility as they can handle. The Knicks aren’t making the playoffs, but they don’t have their first-round draft pick this year, either. That pick is in the hands of the Toronto Raptors, a probable top-10 selection that is the crown jewel of the highway robbery Raptors honcho Masai Ujiri pulled on New York in the Andrea Bargiani trade a couple years ago.

Speaking of the Raptors, after a blowout loss to the Boston Celtics, Portland played Toronto in what proved to be a barnburner of a game. Damian Lillard turned it on in the fourth quarter, scoring 22 points in the final frame en route to his second 50-point game since the All-Star break (I think he still might be pissed about being left off the team. Just maybe.), but it was in a losing effort. The Raptors squeaked out a two-point win which both affirmed their status as a solid sub-contender behind Cleveland in the East, and showed the Blazers that they still need to find another gear if they want to make noise in April.

The Trail Blazers aren’t sneaking up on anybody anymore, unfortunately. The Toronto game proved that.

Now, after basking in the praise of ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe and the guys over at CBSSports.com, the process of licking wounds and getting back to winning begins tonight.

Time for picks! Let’s go!

(All stats provided by NBA.com and basketball-reference.com.)

All games can be heard on the radio partner of Oregon Sports News, AM 620 Rip City Radio!

Tuesday, March 8: vs. the Washington Wizards, 7:00 PM, CSNNW and NBATV (Note: if you reside in Oregon/SW Washington, NBATV will black the game out.)

The Skinny: As noted last week, the Wiz are clinging for dear life to the underbelly of the playoff race, two games behind eighth-place Chicago. They are the dingle berry attached to the butt hairs of a 350-pound fat man, waiting to be shaken off for good then flushed.

John Wall, though, doesn’t feel like letting go anytime soon. The dynamic Wizards point guard has single-handedly kept Washington afloat, averaging 20 points, five rebounds, and 10 assists a game while shooting 43/34/78 splits, with a PER of 20.3. He blends size, speed, unique passing vision, and a dogged defensive attitude into a package that is astounding to see in person.

Russell Westbrook is the only point guard that can equal Wall in versatility, but Westbrook’s passing skills are an acquired skill; Wall’s passing acumen is totally natural, with a particular gift for finding teammates open corner three-pointers, the best shots to take in NBA basketball. Westbrook also tends to gamble and laze around on defense, while Wall largely does not.

One thing Wall can be criticized about this season is his lack of consistency. Here’s a table on Wall:

 


Wall also shoots seven percent better from three in wins than he does in losses, despite taking the exact same number of attempts per game in both wins and losses.

Looking at Washington’s monthly records, they had at least a near-.500 month whenever Wall had at minimum his seasonal averages in the categories listed in the table. When he exceeded his averages, the Wizards naturally had a higher win-loss record.

Look, I know all this is a roundabout way of saying that if John Wall plays well, the Wizards win. However, Wall gets less respect and is considered a lesser player than the other point guards of his tier, like Lillard, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry, simply because he can’t shoot the three-pointer as well as they can.

It’s the Steph Curry Syndrome: if a point guard can’t shoot well from outside, he’s automatically seen as an inferior player, even if Wall is a much better passer and defender than either Lillard or Irving, while having played with the least talented teammates when each player’s career is compared.

Wall is just as good as Lillard, even if Wall can’t pull up from 35 feet and drain a three like tossing a bottle into a waste bin. It’s just that Lillard is seen as more valuable in today’s game than Wall by many basketball people, even if Wall is the more talented athlete and better passer.

Player To Watch: Damian Lillard.

Prediction: Portland pulls out a win at home to stop the skid.


Friday, March 11: @ the Golden State Warriors, 7:30 PM, CSNNW

The Skinny: If the Warriors hadn’t just gagged away a game to one of the worst teams in the NBA, I’d be fully prepared to say Golden State would 100% crush the Blazers for the undressing they received at Moda Center a few weeks ago. But that loss to the Los Angeles Lakers gives me a millisecond of pause about predicting the outcome of this game.

Whoops, millisecond’s up!

Two reasons why the Blazers are screwed in this game:

1. The Warriors haven’t lost a regular-season game at home for more than a calendar year. They’ve crushed everybody that goes to Oracle Arena.

2. Remember that line above about the Blazers not sneaking up on anybody anymore? They sure as hell aren’t sneaking up on a massively talented, fiercely proud team they embarrassed just a while ago.

Despite the listlessness they displayed in the Laker loss, I still believe that some of the Warriors, namely Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green, and Curry, would dearly love to repay Portland with a hometown pantsing of their own.

Player To Watch: CJ McCollum. How he plays against Klay Thompson, who is taller and heavier than him, will be a cool thing to keep an eye on.

Prediction: Golden State crushes the Blazers.


Saturday, March 12: vs. the Orlando Magic, 7:30 PM, KGW

The Skinny: To steal an analogy from Bill Simmons, the Magic trading Tobias Harris to the Detroit Pistons for Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings was like giving away a fifty-cent coin for two quarters. And that’s the best scenario; Jennings not only plays the same position as second-year man/lottery pick Elfrid Payton, but Jennings is also coming off an Achilles injury, and both players were deemed expendable by a painfully thin Detroit organization.

That fact alone wouldn’t seem to bode well for either Ilyasova or Jennings, but when you also consider that they’re guys that could take time away from recent Orlando draft picks that need time, for a team that has no shot at the postseason this year, the trade makes little sense. They did the trade reportedly for cap reasons, but Harris is on a cap-friendly deal the front office negotiated literally months ago. Also, when the cap jumps up this summer thanks to the new TV money being fully integrated, EVERYBODY is going to have cap space. It isn’t as big a commodity as it was three years ago.

Also, even though Harris would likely be miscast as a top guy, he still had the makings of a secondary creator/star, kind of like a more consistent Nicolas Batum. If the Magic ever got in a position to acquire someone better than Harris, or if Payton or Victor Oladipo ever developed into stars, Orlando would have a stable and cheap core firmly in place.

Dealing Harris for veterans that will probably bolt come summertime is just a puzzling decision. Harris should fit in with the Pistons once he spends a training camp with them, and molds his versatile game around what they want to do. Orlando gets a couple empty roster spots and a ton of money that might not get spent; no star is going to want to come to Orlando and baby-sit the likes of Aaron Gordon and Oladipo.

It seems like the fifty-cent piece that was Harris might have been just given away by Orlando GM Rob Hennigan. Woof.

Player To Watch: Mason Plumlee. Magic center Nikola Vucevic is an offensively talented big man, not unlike Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter. Vooch is a more polished player that actually gives effort on defense, and will test Plumlee’s already limited ability to defend the post and midrange jumper.

Prediction: Portland is a more complete team than Orlando is right now, despite the Magic spending four times the amount of time on their rebuild. I don’t know whether to laud Portland GM Neil Olshey or damn Hennigan. Probably both.

Anyway, Blazers win.

Last week, the Blazers went 1-3. I went 4-0 because I’m a dirty pessimist.

It’s good to be smart, even if it’s almost never fun.

Trail Blazers’ Record: 33-31

Jared’s Picks Record: 36-28

 

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