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NEW: Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview – Dec. 15

Monday, December 15, 2014

 

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts

Looking at the big picture, the road has been kind to the Portland Trail Blazers so far this season. I mean, even though the competition has been Eastern Conference-heavy on the road, 8-4 is still a very good record, especially after a 3-2 road trip that included a four-games-in-five-nights stretch.

Every team goes through that kind of stuff; the NBA is discussing cutting preseason games and stretching the 82-game season across a few more weeks, but any talk of cutting scheduled games, and the revenue that comes with those games, is an automatic non-starter amongst the 30 team owners. If there’s a subset of person that’s greedier than the professional athlete, it’s the professional sports team owner.

It’s disappointing because like everyone else, I want to see good basketball. I don’t want the San Antonio Spurs to rest their best players, I don’t want the teams at the end of an Eastern or Western swing tire out and get sloppy, and I really don’t want the beautiful offensive machine the Blazers trot out there to break down for reasons that have nothing to do with the other team.

I have the same problem with the NFL (or, as those mindless jocks call it on TV, the National Football League. It‘s the National Football League! WE‘RE TOO DUMB FOR ACRONYMS!!!!) making its players play games on Thursday nights, all year round. The last game with the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams was a perfect example of what I’m talking about; granted, both teams aren’t exactly offensive juggernauts, but if they played after seven days rest instead of four, the score likely wouldn’t have been 12-6.

The NFL and NBA are running their athletes into the ground for the sake of three guys in green named Franklin, Grant, and Jackson, and though they share the riches with their athletes, I keep wondering if I want to be paying to watch this mess. I follow the NBA because basketball is my first and only love, but I’ve quit following professional football months ago.

It also doesn’t hurt that my fantasy team just got eliminated today…*sniff sniff*…

On the subject of the NBA, the schedule should get a face-lift one way or the other. One idea I want to float out there is that having a 4-3-2 split amongst the games would reduce the number of games to 76. Four games each against teams in your own division, three against teams in your conference, and the usual two versus teams in the other conference. With four other teams in the division, 10 teams in your conference (and outside your division), and 15 teams in the other conference, splitting the games this way would be even, fair, and would only cut three home games from the owners’ precious revenue streams.

Having the season start in mid-October is another option, but it would have to coexist with the NFL for a longer time, as well as intruding upon baseball’s exciting playoffs. Having the start of the season crushed into oblivion by college football, the NFL and baseball is a fate suited for hockey, but one Adam Silver and the NBA won’t accept.

Whatever the league does, here’s hoping it results in less back-to-backs, less amateur-like basketball, and healthier athletes.

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

Monday, Dec. 15: versus the San Antonio Spurs, CSNNW, 7:00 PM

Friday, Dec. 19: @ the San Antonio Spurs, ESPN and CSNNW, 5:00 PM

The Skinny: Yeah, these teams play twice this week. It’s the first time that’s happened to me this year, so I’ll lump these two games in one section since they happen so close together.

The World Champions keep chugging along, posting their usual sterling record (17-7 going into the game tonight) to start the season and getting contributions from everybody. They have eight guys averaging more than eight PPG, with Tony Parker’s 16 leading the way. Tim Duncan is averaging (rounded up) a 15-11 (PPG and RPG), is anchoring a Spurs defense likely to be in the top ten once again, and happens to be 38 years old. 

Although Parker is the team’s best player, and Kawhi Leonard is the team’s future, Duncan is the guy I notice most when watching San Antonio. He plays less, takes back-to-backs off, and has almost no lift or athleticism left, yet he keeps drawing the eye because you’re watching a basketball tutorial in real life. He’s never out of position, he makes sure the center behind him is ready to cut off any weak-side action, and he knows just when to put those massive arms up and knock an opponent’s shot away…and into the hands of one of his guards.

That’s always been an underrated aspect of Tim Duncan’s game: his blocks and what happens after them. (Though to be honest, I doubt there’s a casual fan on Earth that really appreciates Duncan.) Watch Dwight Howard block a shot, and it goes out of bounds because he’s a stupid sot that likes to show off. He flexes his muscles, smiles that goofy smile, and the opponent gets another possession. 

Duncan swatted a shot in bounds, and even though it went back to the guy that shot it once in awhile, you could tell that he didn’t want to go up against Duncan again; at his best, Timmy was like Bill Russell, whose rebounds and blocks happened and were OUT OF THERE and into the hands of the ball handlers, going up the court. Anthony Davis, the Destroyer of Worlds, has been clearly watching Duncan and Russell tapes. Davis does the same thing with his blocks, keeping them in bounds and either recovering them himself or tapping them towards his guards.

That’s one of the small differences that separates an All-Timer and multi-time champion like Duncan from an All-Star and playoff flameout like Dwight Howard, and the basketball fan in me is glad Davis is learning that so early in his career.

Key Matchup: Damian Lillard vs. Tony Parker. And after spending four paragraphs glorifying Duncan, I go here for the matchup. That’s because while Duncan’s the living past, Parker’s the present. Parker’s only averaging 5.3 APG, which also leads the team, but the efficiency of his driving attack offsets that to a degree. The Spurs are utterly unselfish in the way they move the ball, so reading into per game stats is a hollow exercise with them (except where Duncan’s concerned; like I said, the old man’s still got it). 

One thing I must highlight in regards to Parker is his 60% shooting in the paint. That’s the kind of disgusting number some big men can’t manage, and Parker’s a six-foot point guard in his thirties doing this. It’s not like he’s only getting some of his offense amongst the trees, either; Parker’s only taken 26 threes this year, and he shoots just 36% from the mid-range.

Lillard said he was tired by the time these teams met in the playoffs last season, but there’s no denying Parker played great when he did play. Wesley Matthews and Parker’s French countryman Nicolas Batum tried their best, but Parker ran a Spurs attack that destroyed the Blazers.

Lillard will have to make Parker, a mediocre-at-best defender, work on the defensive end with pick plays and running up and down the court. If Spurs coach Gregg Popovich tries to hide Parker on another player, that player must make San Antonio pay. The Spurs attack Lillard wherever he is on defense; if Portland is to have a chance in either of these games, they must do the same to Parker.

Predictions: Monday is the second night of a back-to-back for the Spurs, so Popovich will likely rest one or more of his Big Three tonight. I think Portland wins on Monday, then San Antonio exacts revenge on Friday.

Wednesday, Dec. 17: versus the Milwaukee Bucks, CSNNW, 7:00 PM

The Skinny: Say what you will about Jason Kidd, the man can obviously coach. I personally don’t blame him for trying to force out Brooklyn Nets GM Billy King during the offseason; King’s a horrible GM. (Though Blazer fans should thank him every day. He traded a draft pick for washed-up forward Gerald Wallace, a draft pick that became Damian Lillard. Thanks Billy King!) That kind of ham-handed power play caused Kidd to be disliked and mocked the land over, and the way he positioned himself to get the Milwaukee job despite Larry Drew being the coach already was sleazy to the extreme.

Despite all that, Kidd has the Bucks playing .500 basketball with suffocating defense, inspired offense, and two teenagers in Giannis Antetokounmpo (who shall be known as the Greek Freak from now on; YOU try typing that name again) and Jabari Parker who ooze potential. With solid veterans flanking the youngsters and a coach in Kidd who’s gotten their ear, Milwaukee’s competitive…maybe too competitive for their own good.

The East is a tire fire, burning stinky enough to allow a team like the Bucks to finish at something like 39-43 and still make the playoffs, where they’ll be obliterated by the Raptors, Cavaliers or Bulls without the benefit of a high draft pick--one they can use to enrich their talent base and enable them to move on from some of their veterans, like Ersan Ilyasova, their sweet-shooting big who’s on an expiring contract this season.

It’ll be interesting to see if Milwaukee remains in the playoff race into March, and if they do, whether Kidd and GM John Hammond might tank the rest of the season in order to fall into the lottery again.

Key Matchup: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Jabari Parker. The rookie Parker is putting up modest numbers (12 points and 6 rebounds a game) and his shooting outside the restricted area is horrid, but he’s got clear skills, and along with the Greek Freak is clearly the future for the Bucks. 

Milwaukee doesn’t have that one guy yet that can hurt you despite strong defense, but I choose to highlight Parker because his contemporary, Andrew Wiggins, embarrassed the Blazers with his first professional double-double (and 20-10 game) last week. If Parker has a big game like that, especially against Aldridge, the Bucks could very well steal one on the road.

Prediction: With a super-tough road trip coming up, Portland must win this game and establish some good vibes before diving into the Southwest meat grinder. The Blazers teach the young Bucks a swift lesson.

I’ll look at Saturday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans game on Friday; holiday vacation beckons, and my editor will have me craft a huge preview piece for the games in between the 20th and the beginning of January. 

Last week…didn’t go to well for me. Portland went 2-2, but because Minnesota and Chicago won, and Indiana lost, I ended up going 1-3, the first losing week I’ve had this year. 

As Dwight in Sin City said before a grenade blew him into a tar pit, “And everything was going…so well…”

Trail Blazers’ Record: 18-6

Jared’s Picks Record: 17-7

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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