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Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview & Predictions – 2/3

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

 

The Portland Trail Blazers are on a roll heading into the All-Star break, winning nine out of their last 11 games, and have slid into eighth in the Western Conference. Right now, they would qualify for their third straight playoff berth in three years, which would be astounding considering that Portland GM Neil Olshey had to replace 80% of the starting lineup, and most of the roster overall, with a motley collection of specialized veterans and unproven youngsters.

As great as this current streak of play has been for the Blazers, the unfortunate truth is that most of those victories have come against average and terrible teams; the Oklahoma City Thunder (whom the Blazers beat) and the Atlanta Hawks (whom they lost to) are easily the best teams they’ve played in their last 11 games. 

CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard have combined for 44 PPG and 11.8 APG during those games, yet nobody else averaged more than nine points per game, further illustrating the overdependence of the roster on their backcourt. That would have bit them in the backside against Minnesota and Charlotte, if those teams could score in turn; the Timberwolves, in particular, looked woeful against the Blazers’ pathetic defense, more proof that Sam Mitchell needs to go back to NBATV and let someone who isn’t stuck in 1996 coach an NBA team.

In the playoffs, other than the obvious talent disparity the Blazers would face, it will become known real quick that if you can shut down either Lillard or McCollum, nobody else on the Portland roster has the chops or game to make up for it. 

Against the Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings, or Los Angeles Lakers, the Blazers can overcome an off night from one of their dynamic duo.

Against the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs, one of those off nights will equate to getting blown out by 50. Hell, those squads are still so superior to the Blazers, a 50-point blowout might happen anyway.

The Blazers still want to get to the playoffs though. The draft pick they’ll lose will be a mid-first rounder, no big loss (though another young guy on a team that can afford to play him would be nice). It’s the future prospects of the franchise I’m somewhat salty about while Portland’s beating up on bad teams…but that’s another article.

Time for picks! Let’s go!

(Stats are courtesy of basketball-reference.com and NBA.com)

All games can be heard on Oregon Sports News’ new radio partner, Rip City Radio! 

Thursday, Feb. 4: vs. the Toronto Raptors, 7:00 PM, KGW

The Skinny: Toronto’s been as hot as Portland lately, and no I’m not talking about the weather. At 32-16, despite average traditional stats (no higher than 15th in team PPG, RPG, or APG), they’ve established themselves as Cleveland’s primary challenger in the East.

The reasons why the Raptors have been so successful lately are their All-Star duo, point guard Kyle Lowry and wing DeMar DeRozen. If there’s a backcourt better than Lillard/McCollum, it’s these guys.

DeRozen averages 23/4/4 as the lead option. His shooting is not the best, with a 44% FG% and a poor 31% 3PT%, but the secret to his success is getting to the free-throw line. He averages over eight free throws a game and makes them at an 85% clip. His PER is a very good 21.2.

He’s been criticized in the past for being too reliant on free throws; foul calls and the resulting freebies tend to disappear in the postseason as teams get more familiar with an opponent’s tendencies and the refs let things go. DeRozen hasn’t performed well in the playoffs, and the Raptors’ recent postseason flameouts are primarily DeRozen’s fault. DeRozen must develop other methods of scoring for Toronto to finally get over the hump and make it to the second round--and possibly further.

Lowry has been described by me before as a short, fat pit bull that will just FIGHT you. The fat part is no longer correct, as he’s slimmed down a great deal over last summer, but the rest of his game is intact. In fact, he’s gotten better.

Lowry is also a 20-point per game scorer, and though his overall shooting percentage is a mediocre 42%, that’s a product of half his field goal attempts coming from three-point range. He makes 38% from three, which is a good number, and his foul shooting is better than DeRozen’s at 86%. Lowry’s PER is also better, at a great 23; Lowry has more versatility to his game, despite being seven inches shorter than DeRozen.

Behind these two studs on the perimeter, the Raptors have lapped the non-Cleveland part of the field so far. Whether that continues, after Toronto rides the high of hosting the All-Star Game and having its two best players on the Eastern team, remains to be seen.

Player To Watch: Damian Lillard. Lillard vs. Lowry is always damn good fun, and I’m very glad KGW has this game instead of Comcast.

Prediction: In a thriller, Toronto defeats the Blazers.

Saturday, Feb. 6: @ the Houston Rockets, 2:00 PM, CSNNW

The Skinny: Houston as of today is seventh in the West, at 25-25. One and a half games ahead of Portland. So this game is quite important to both teams, and will be the first of two games between these teams in a span of a few days.

After making the Western Conference Finals last season, the Rockets have been a train wreck. Only James Harden achieving his peak level of performance (28 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 7 APG, 25.2 PER) despite shooting at below-average clips has saved this team from total irrelevance.

Where to begin? From Dwight Howard once again being a hot-headed diva, to Kevin McHale getting fired in November, to the Ty Lawson trade failing miserably, to Donatas Montejunas regressing to the point that he got demoted to the D-League, to the likes of Corey Brewer, Jason Terry, and Marcus Thornton having to play significant minutes at times….

I mean, the awfulness abounds. Houston is seventh in offensive rating, but they’ve regressed terribly on defense, with a defensive rating that’s fourth-worst in the NBA. Basically, they’ve become the Trail Blazers.

A team that had legit title aspirations this season becoming like the 2015-16 Trail Blazers can only be described as a massive disappointment. 

Player To Watch: Al-Farouq Aminu. The Chief will likely draw the assignment of Harden on defense, since Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverly are spot-up shooters. 

Prediction: Houston defeats the Blazers and creates some separation in the standings.

Last week, the Blazers and I both went 3-0. That won’t happen again this season.

Trail Blazers’ Record: 23-26

Jared’s Picks Record: 24-25

Bro Counter: 12 to go!

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.

 

Related Slideshow: 12 of the Greatest Sports Movies of All Time

Hank Stern ranks his top twelve favorite sports films. 

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#12 Rollerball

Some of the non-athletic scenes in this dystopian classic show their age, but Rollerball is a strangely prescient film that anticipated both the corporatization of sport and fans’ limitless taste for violence. Bonus points for the ominous intro music.

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#11 A League of Their Own

A comedy that looks back to the antithesis of corporate sport – a women’s baseball league during World War II with many memorable lines to choose from (e.g.,”There’s no crying in baseball.”)

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#10 Remember The Titans

Yes, filmmakers took liberties with some of the facts dealing with the integration of a high school football team in Virginia. But there’s a reason football teams often screen this film on the eve of big games. It’s a damn inspirational tale.

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#9 The Natural

This film has grown on me over time. Originally, it seemed slow and schmaltzy. Now, it seems well-paced and charming. Then and now, the re-created scenes of pre-World War II ballparks arrive like perfectly preserved postcards from the past.  

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#8 The Longest Yard

Not the remake with Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. But the hilarious original with Burt Reynolds and Eddie Albert as a wonderfully villainous warden who pits the guards against the inmates in a grudge football game that includes former Green Bay linebacker Ray Nitschke and other ex-football players like Sonny Sixkiller and Joe Kapp, both stalwart Pac-8 quarterbacks long, long ago.  

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#7 Slap Shot

The Hanson brothers. Enough said.

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#6 Rocky

Often imitated, but never replicated. The definitive underdog boxing story featuring Sylvester Stallone before he became a self-caricature in multiple sequels. Impossible to hear the theme song without being motivated to get off the couch.

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#5 Seabiscuit

A fantastic book as well as a great movie. Like “The Natural,” Seabiscuit captures its Depression-era setting for modern-day viewers taken back to an era when horse racing actually meant something in America. 

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#4 Requiem for a Heavywei

A too often-forgotten film these days but a wonderful boxing drama that shows the sport’s underside with memorable  performances by Mickey Rooney, Jackie Gleason and Anthony Quinn.

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#3 Hoosiers

Want to know something about small-town America in the 1950s and about Indiana basketball? This hoops movie does all of that with a healthy dose of redemption throughout. 

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#2 Bull Durham

There’s a pretty good case to be made this movie played a huge part in the rebirth and re-marketing of minor league baseball. As written by former minor leaguer Ron Shelton, there are many great scenes to choose from but this one is a favorite. 

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#1 Raging Bull

A rags-to-riches-to-rags story of boxer Jake LaMotta meets the actor born to play him, Robert De Niro. Not a false moment in this black-and-white powerhouse.

 
 

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