Portland Trail Blazers Week Preview
Monday, November 03, 2014
The first week of the NBA season for the Portland Trail Blazers didn’t work out too well for them.
Even though they did defeat Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook burped fire and spat ice, hanging 38 on Portland. If he had anybody else on that team that could score, the Blazers would have lost that game.
Then, at Sacramento, Rudy Gay of the Kings tortured Nicolas Batum, winning the matchup I highlighted handily. Gay dropped 40 on Portland, and he and DeMarcus Cousins dropped the Blazers on Halloween.
Then came Klay Thompson. The Warriors shooting guard made Wesley Matthews his whipping boy last night, putting up 29 a day after going for 41. Thompson put the cherry on top by sinking a floater with eight seconds left…while Portland’s best ball handlers turned it over three times in the clutch. They looked like the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz trying to handle a 50-pound boulder being thrown at them.
To top it all off, Damian Lillard had a horrid start to the season, shooting 30% from the field, including an eye-watering, vomit-inducing 1-7 from 3-point range last night.
I don’t like that the three guys I highlighted in this space last week all went off for big games. Then again, it did make me look intelligent #egotrip.
The first week of the season made one thing clear: if the Trail Blazers can’t defend anybody with a pulse and a dribble on the perimeter this year, they’ll be lucky to crack .500, let alone the playoffs. They should be fine as the season goes along, but it’s disturbing that Batum and Matthews, the best individual defenders on the team, are getting abused like this.
Time for this week’s previews! Let’s go! (All games on AM 620 radio)
Tuesday, Nov. 4: versus the Cleveland Cavaliers, NBATV & CSNNW, 7:00 PM
The Skinny: It will take time for the Cavs to become the galaxy-destroying machine we all think they will become. Coach David Blatt is trying to install an offense that most of these guys hadn’t seen before, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have to learn how to play off the ball, and the likes of Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson had to settle into their new roles--and not kick up a fuss about it (I’m looking at you, Dion.)
The much-ballyhooed homecoming game was spoiled by the New York Knicks; Blatt reportedly lit into his team…one freaking game into the season. An NBA season has 82 games, in case Blatt forgot. He’ll eventually learn to shrug the occasional flat game off as part of the merciless grind.
Any team with LeBron James, however, will be a force to be reckoned with, even with his supporting cast, as well as his coaching staff, in the embryonic stages of their development into a powerhouse.
They went into Chicago and defeated the Bulls, and Derrick Rose sprained his ankle (that guy can’t catch a break…whoops. Bad choice of words. Forget I said that), so things already are looking up for Cleveland in the East. As they start a three-game swing out West--their first real road trip together--I imagine they’ll continue to learn, grow, and kick butt.
Key Matchup: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Kevin Love. Aldridge has been a steadying force in the infant stages of this season, putting up 25 points a game. He’s always played well against Love, as his superior length and athleticism enable him to either shoot over the Cavalier forward or juke him on his way to the basket.
Love will counter with his prodigious rebounding skill and superior range, though Aldridge has shot more threes so far. These two went at it four times a year when Love was in Minnesota, so they know each other fairly well. If Aldridge can at least play Love even, it’ll give the Blazers a chance.
Prediction: If the likes of Rudy Gay and Klay Thompson can light up Portland, I shudder to think what LeBron James could do when his switch is flipped to Scoring Mode. LeBron’s played extremely well in Portland in his career. If he looks to dominate early and get the jump on the Blazers, Portland will likely take the loss, and that’s what I think happens here.
Thursday, Nov. 6: versus the Dallas Mavericks, TNT, 7:45 PM
The Skinny: Dallas sits at 2-1 so far, having lost by one point to the San Antonio Spurs in the season opener. After surviving Anthony Davis, Destroyer of Worlds, they play the Boston Celtics as a warm-up before coming here for a national TV tilt against a team they’re looking to pass in the Western Conference hierarchy.
Pairing the two-headed scoring monster of Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis with Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler gives the Mavs one of the most versatile starting lineups in the NBA, offensively anyway. They resemble the Blazers as a team; offensively gifted, defensively flawed, always interesting no matter what.
Key Matchup: Robin Lopez vs. Tyson Chandler. This one’s out to left field, but Lopez quietly has been a double-double machine so far. It’ll be his job to keep Chandler off the glass on both ends of the floor. Whoever is able to produce the most second chances for his team, while denying them to the opponent, will have a large impact on this game.
Also, watch out for Chandler rolling to the hoop when he runs the pick-and-roll with Ellis. Portland’s interior defense has been suspect so far, and Dallas will look to make Lopez move.
Prediction: Whenever TNT comes to town, the Blazers always seem to play well. When I worked at my old job, I always had Thursdays off; it was my NBA night, and when Portland was featured, it was double special. I’m better off where I’m at now, but I am going to miss those Thursdays, with Kenny Smith dropping wisdom, Chuck saying the Blazers’ jump-shooting is “terrible,” and Shaq being a goober.
Anyway, the Trail Blazers will take it.
Saturday, Nov. 8: @ the Los Angeles Clippers, CSNNW, 12:30 PM
The Skinny: The Clippers have had a start almost as uneven as the Blazers’. They do stand at 2-1, but I sure feel much better about that Sacramento loss after the Kings went into Los Angeles and beat the Clippers on the road.
In every great team’s season, there are going to be a few games where you just don’t have it, and Blake Griffin just didn’t have it against Sacramento. He went 6-20 for 17 points, and while five of his eight rebounds were on the offensive end, his plus/minus for the game was a low of -15. That basically means he didn’t make a difference.
Chris Paul is still the Point God, but the Clippers will only go as far as Griffin can carry them now.
Key Matchup: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Blake Griffin. Which brings us here. Like I said above, Aldridge has been very consistent so far, the one ray of sunshine in a dreary week. Griffin, on the other hand, has been volatile, hanging 39 points on the hapless Lakers before meeting a real man in DeMarcus Cousins and throwing up a pukestain of a game.
Griffin has a varied offensive game, but defensively he’s always been helpless against guys like Aldridge; those T-Rex arms of his are no use when LMA fades back for an easy two points. Griffin has the strength to shove Aldridge out of the post, but this is where Aldridge’s expanded range should come into play.
If Aldridge can make a few long jumpers--or even threes--and pull Griffin away from the basket, the perimeter players should be able to take advantage of the increased space to drive into the paint (Paging Damian Lillard!), and Lopez will be able to have an easier time battling DeAndre Jordan.
Prediction: Unfortunately, I don’t trust the Trail Blazers on the road, and playing in Los Angeles--whether against the Clips or the “other team” in LA--has never been a fun experience for this franchise. Portland makes it close, but the Clippers will show them what a real contender looks like.
Sunday, Nov. 9: versus the Denver Nuggets, CSNNW, 6:00 PM
The Skinny: As has been the case in Denver since Carmelo Anthony was traded, the Nuggets field a balanced team that looks to wear you out with depth. Unlike the San Antonio Spurs, who use a similar concept, the Nuggets don’t have the star power of a Tony Parker nor a system that allows for beautiful basketball.
In George Karl’s day, Denver won by running opposing teams off the court, especially at home; their home-court advantage in the thin air of Denver is legendary, and has allowed past Nuggets teams and players to set scoring marks that border on the absurd. This latter-day version of the Nuggets, however, lacks cohesion.
Denver is always going to be a tough opponent, but they lack both star power and the coaching that can make up for it, and despite the offseason additions they made, one gets the sense that the Nuggets are still trying to get over the losses of Karl and former GM Masai Ujiri, the man behind the revival of the Toronto Raptors.
Key Matchup: Damian Lillard vs. Ty Lawson. The Nuggets’ mighty mite is perhaps the most underrated point guard in the league, with blazing speed, an improved jump shot, and an uncanny ability to finish over and around men more than a foot taller than him. At his best, he’s like the Roadrunner after five Red Bulls, always going at hyper speed.
Lawson is the man that drives whatever’s left of Denver’s attack. While Denver has auxiliary ball handlers that are capable themselves, the Nuggets are at their best when Lawson can dictate the pace of the game.
It will be up to Lillard to shake off his bad start to the season and match Lawson’s energy and production. If Dame can’t pull himself out of the miasma he’s been mired in lately, Lawson will have no problem making him look bad--and winning the game in the process.
Prediction: The Nuggets will be playing in Portland, and the Blazers’ starting lineup has more balance and scoring punch than Denver’s (no one on the Nuggets averages more than 15 PPG, though power forward Kenneth Faried is averaging 14.5 and 11 rebounds a game). I expect Portland to take care of business, then steel themselves for Denver’s response on the 12th.
Trail Blazers’ Season Record: 1-2
Jared’s Picks Record: 1-2
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