Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview
Monday, November 17, 2014
The epic 23-point comeback against the Charlotte Hornets, going to Denver the very next night to crush the reeling Nuggets in a four-games-in-five-nights scenario, and outlasting the Brooklyn Nets without the services of LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum (only two of the team’s best three players) personifies #NeverSayDie. Portland will need that resilience against their next opponent, but afterwards…maybe not so much.
(Seriously, they wiped the Nuggets off the face of the Earth. If everybody else wasn’t obliterating the bad teams, I might be even more impressed. Looking at the scores in the Association the last week, you’d think the all-offense playground ball of the 1980s was back.)
Seeing his best teammates go down with injuries and illness has officially awoken Damian Lillard. The Blazer point guard averaged 28 points and eight assists a game last week, and he shot just a shade under 60% from the field, including 14 three-pointers. He also had 14 turnovers, which will bite him if he plays like that against a good defense like Charlotte’s. Portland came back against the Hornets because Charlotte can’t hit the Grand Canyon with a nuke, but they can’t count on pulling off those kinds of shenanigans.
I’d like to also give a shout-out to the Blazers’ bench. Those guys have proven so far that they’re not all that bad. Others have shined a bright light on them already, so I’ll just wait to see if they can sustain their excellent play.
Alrighty, time for picks! Let’s go! (All games on AM 620 radio, all stats are from NBA.com.)
Monday, Nov. 17: versus the New Orleans Pelicans, CSNNW, 7:00 PM
The Skinny: The Pelicans are a team still trying to transition from “fringe lottery/playoff team” to “contender with a top-five player.” If they played in the Eastern Conference, I have no doubt that Anthony Davis, Destroyer of Worlds, would consume the hapless side of the playoff field with fireballs from his eyes, and bolts of lightning from his ar--whoops, went too far into Braveheart Mode.
In seriousness, though, being in the West is very unfortunate for New Orleans. They’re a good team in a conference filled with great ones, and for all of the awesomeness they possess in terms of big men (with the rugged Omer Asik and the sweet-shooting Ryan Anderson flanking/relieving Davis the DoW) they’re just as awkward and barren on the perimeter.
Jrue Holiday is a good fit for the team as a long, athletic defender who’s serviceable on offense (17 PPG, seven APG with 48% shooting from the field), and his outside shooting should creep closer to league-average when Davis’s world-destroying gives him more space.
The wings, however, are a freaking TIRE FIRE. Eric Gordon has given them nothing, Tyreke Evans is shooting at an unsustainable clip (12-23 from three this season; he’s historically a horrid jump-shooter) and the men behind them in the rotation are either one-trick ponies like Jimmer Fredette, or just plain suck (hi, Austin Rivers).
Evans, with averages of 16 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists a game, is the only shooting guard/small forward on the team that’s giving the Pelicans anything of real value. No matter how good Davis the DoW is, New Orleans won’t be a winning team until the TIRE FIRE on the wings is put out.
Key Matchup: The Blazers’ bigs vs. Anthony Davis, Destroyer of Worlds. I don’t know if Aldridge will play this game, so I’ll just list everybody that’ll play center or power forward for the Blazers. Even with Aldridge, Portland might need everybody to help contain Davis the DoW.
Talk to anybody that follows professional basketball about Anthony Davis, and watch them dissolve into a pile of basketball nerd jelly. This guy is being hyped as the next Tim Duncan, a force of nature waiting in the wings to take over from LeBron James as the best player in the league, and for once the hype is real.
Finally healthy, Davis the DoW is averaging 24.5 PPG, 12 RPG, and four blocks a game. Stealing a concept from Grantland’s Bill Simmons, combining blocks with steals to create “stocks”, Davis is averaging 6.4 stocks a game. That’s Hakeem Olajuwon territory, folks; Hakeem is arguably the most devastating post-1970 defender in league history. Anthony Davis is already his statistical match at the tender age of 21. Unreal.
Davis the DoW shoots 56% from the field, including a sterling 66% in the paint, and makes 77% of his free throws. His pick-and-pop jumper also has become a weapon; he spends a great deal of his time polishing his shooting stroke, and it shows.
Watching him rip apart the San Antonio Spurs (on the Spurs’ own floor, I might add) a while back made me cringe, because I knew the Blazers would face that guy soon. Meyers Leonard, Robin Lopez, Joel Freeland, and if he plays, the sick LaMarcus Aldridge had better bring their lunch pails.
Prediction: Without Nicolas Batum, the Blazers won’t have the wing depth to make New Orleans pay. However, I’m more apt to trust the Blazers’ reserves than the Pelicans’, and Portland is almost as deep up front as their opponent.
I’ll go out on a limb and say that despite Lillard having to fight off Holiday, Asik, and Davis the DoW for the whole game, the Blazers steal it. I’m not confident at all about this, though.
Friday, Nov. 21: versus the Chicago Bulls, ESPN and CSNNW, 7:45 PM
The Skinny: There’s been a great deal of drama in Chicago about Derrick Rose this week. After coming back this season after major knee surgery, Rose proceeded to sprain both his ankles, then strain his hamstring.
There was a Photoshop meme about Rose I saw awhile back that depicted LeBron James as a PlayStation controller, Kobe Bryant as a controller with just one huge Square button (the SHOOT button), and Rose as a busted-up controller with buttons falling out, duct tape on the handles, and cracks all over.
That meme was cruel, yet apt so far this season. Despite Jimmy Butler scoring like no tomorrow, Pau Gasol’s resurgence, and the overall defensive brilliance the Bulls are well known for, Chicago’s going nowhere unless they put Humpty Dumpty together again.
Key Matchup: Chris Kaman vs. Taj Gibson. The sixth men for both these teams have played huge roles in their respective success. Kaman’s numbers in just over 18 minutes a game have been impressive: 10 PPG, 6.6 RPG and 1.4 blocks a game with 56% shooting is what Portland GM Neil Olshey thought he could get from Air Sasquatch when healthy.
Air Sasquatch’s impact on the game is startling to see firsthand; he moves fairly well on defense, he’s there when he needs to be, and he provides the scoring punch off the bench the Blazers needed when Mo Williams decided to chase the money instead of play for a decent team.
Gibson’s long been starter-caliber, and though he’s paid very handsomely to be a backup, he’s griped about not starting before, and for not winning the Sixth Man of the Year award that usually goes to the Jamal Crawford-J.R. Smith types, shooting guards that come off the bench, play 30-36 minutes, shoot 20 times, score 18 points, and do nothing else positive for their teams.
With Gibson averaging 12 points, almost six rebounds, and shooting 55%, neither of these big men have the sexy stats that drive opinion on the Sixth Man Award. If both keep up their play, they’ll deserve consideration before Crawford selfishly comes off the bench just enough times to qualify, win the award, and use that to drive up the price of his next contract.
Prediction: Portland should have its full complement of players by this game, barring an injury against New Orleans or complications with Batum or Aldridge. The rested Blazers should have enough offensive production to outlast Chicago, especially of Rose is unable to play. Portland wins.
Sunday, Nov. 23: @ the Boston Celtics, CSNNW, 3:00 PM
The Skinny: Year two in Celtics GM Danny Ainge’s latest restoration project in Boston sees them stuck in Rajon Rondo limbo again. The Celtics’ star point guard just had the screws removed in the broken hand he suffered at the start of the season and will be available for this game, while his eventual replacement, Marcus Smart, is now out for a couple weeks.
Ainge and Rondo don’t seem to be of one mind concerning the player’s future. One week trade rumors float around like the letters in alphabet soup, the next Rondo’s talking about retiring as a Celtic and sticking around with the team. Rondo’s contract will expire after the season, so one way or another, Ainge has to make a decision.
He’s not likely to get back market value for Rondo; point guard is a saturated position in the NBA nowadays, and the teams that need a player of Rondo’s caliber (Lakers, Knicks) don’t have any assets Ainge would desire. Those teams can just sign Rondo when he becomes available anyway.
I think the most likely scenario is Ainge letting him walk. Everybody thinks Smart is going to be a good one, and the Celtics didn’t draft a guy with Smart’s personality and toughness just to rot on the bench behind Rondo.
Key Matchup: Damian Lillard vs. Rajon Rondo. After taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s MASH unit on Wednesday, Rondo will really test that hand against Lillard.
These guys could hardly be more different in style of play: Rondo looks to pass first, second and always, while Lillard will shoot if he’s given even a smidgen of space. Rondo’s a walking triple-double, Lillard’s a walking three-point barrage. Lillard rebounds well for a point guard, but Rondo’s a recognized master on the backboards.
When playing Rondo, Lillard has to remember to give him space and get those arms up. Rondo has the kind of court vision (and crappy shooting touch, and mercurial attitude) that’s drawn very apt comparisons to Jason Kidd, but unlike Kidd, Rondo doesn’t get to the rim all that often. He will set up his teammates in perfect spots however, and Lillard must be prepared to help his teammates as much as he can by getting in Rondo’s way.
Prediction: The Celtics don’t have the scoring punch to hang with the Blazers, and Rondo’s defense has fallen off now that Kevin Garnett’s no longer manning that back line in Boston. Portland beats the Celtics down, then goes to Philadelphia the day after.
Last week, I predicted that Portland would lose at Denver. For once, I’m glad I look stupid. The Blazers take the lead on me.
Trail Blazers’ Record: 7-3
Jared’s Picks Record: 6-4