Trail Blazers Mid-season Review
Monday, January 19, 2015
Portland have the second best record in the west, and third best overall. They've suffered injuries to starters and key rotation players and managed to keep winning. Their defense is much improved.
Still, there are two disconcerting trends which the Blazers must remedy if they hope to make any noise in the postseason, much less a run at the title: their difficulty against Western Conference contenders and the disappearance of Nicolas Batum.
On paper, the Blazers' five wins and seven losses against playoff bound western teams doesn't look too bad. (For the purposes of this evaluation, I'm including the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were ravaged early by injuries to their two stars, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, as a playoff team.)
Of these five wins, only one--Dallas, November 2nd--was against a team at full strength.
In the Blazers' two victories over Oklahoma City--October 29th and December 3rd--the Thunder were without reigning league MVP Kevin Durant. And in a span during five day in December, when the Blazers twice toppled the Spurs--including a thrilling win in triple-overtime--San Antonio were without a myriad of starters and rotation players, including Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills.
That leaves only one true victory over a Western Conference playoff contender--Portland's drubbing of Dallas in November.
Now, of course, the Blazers can only play who the schedule puts in front of them, and they can't be blamed for beating teams who were suffering from injuries.
But at the same time, Portland's current three-game losing streak reinforced the story: The Clippers, Spurs and Grizzlies took the fight to the Blazers--not the other way around.
(And yes, the Blazers have been without Robin Lopez, but I don't consider his being out to be on the same as a Kevin Durant--or any All-Star-caliber talent. To give such credence would be to put an asterisk by the Thunder if they were without Steven Adams.)
The perceived difference between the Blazers and the seven Western Conference playoff teams they've lost to isn't insurmountable. Which brings us to our second disturbing trend:
Nicolas Batum has just been awful.
At this point, it's beyond detailing--he's down in all meaningful statistical categories and his confidence has suffered accordingly. He's reluctant to shoot, and it's spilling over into the Blazers up-tempo, flowing offense. When Batum hesitates, he hurts everybody.
It's been going on all season. Which begs the question: when does something stop being a slump and become the new normal?
Many have poked around and guessed at the reasons. Could it be that an ugly divorce is taking it's toll? Or, as I have hypothesized, is Batum just worn out from a summer of international basketball that bled right into the grueling NBA season?
No one can say, but it's gotten to the point where the Blazers--and Batum himself--should be trying any-and-everything. As suggested by the Oregonian's Jason Quick, perhaps Batum should spend some time with a sports psychologist.
Because, to reach their true potential, the Blazers need Batum to play up to his potential. And if he can, perhaps the Blazers' record against Western Conference contenders will even out as well.