Instead of the typical game preview addressing who, what, when, where and why, I’ve decided to strike up a conversation with one of the best Portland Trail Blazers writers I know in Dane Carbaugh to give you some in-depth analysis on tonight’s matchup between the Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers. For some back group info on Dane, he’s the editor over at AYoungSabonis, does playbook breakdowns for SB Nation’s BlazersEdge and is a NBA newsdesk writer for SB Nation.
We spoke on the Blazers recent struggles, how Portland will attempt to stop Blake Griffin and Damian Lillard‘s chances in the upcoming All-Star events.
Through the first 40 games of the season the Trail Blazers went 31-9. Over the last 12 games they’ve gone 5-7. What’s changed from the Blazers hot start that’s cause this slump in play?
It’s a combination of a few things, and it starts with game film being readily available for opponents. They have been able to overplay their passing lanes and understand tendencies of the Blazers’ shooters. That’s really put a stop to their assault from deep. The other part of it is that Portland has started to tire out. Being the top offense in the league is exhausting, and a few weeks ago they were really dogging it. They’ve had a little burst lately to get them back on track, but I wouldn’t expect them to win 80% of their games to finish the season, especially considering their March is extremely tough and they don’t get more than 1 days rest between any two games.
You unintentionally answered what would’ve been my second question, addressing defenses adjusting to the Blazers’ shooters. Do you think Terry Stotts will be able to adjust his offense to combat the overplaying of the passing lanes going forward?
He has already, and it’s really based on three things. First, Portland has to get into the paint and at least threaten to finish. Damian Lillard can drive, and Mo Williams can to an extent, but no one else is a true threat off the bounce. Adding CJ McCollum to the mix is a real help, since he can break players down in isolation. Usually, Blazers players will dribble in to the 8ft. mark and then try to dish, which is way too easy. They have to start finishing at the rim to try and counteract that.
Second, they have to go to Aldridge early in the post. Lots of teams won’t double him but if he gets going early, that forces teams to sag onto him and will open up the arc. That’s definitely how this Blazer offense works.
Finally, they have to use their backdoor plays. Portland’s flow offense has a lot of off-ball movement and opportunities to go right at the rim. I saw them run a very Spurs-like play the other day I hadn’t seen where Damian Lillard is off-ball and fakes a screen in the corner only to cut back down toward the baseline and receive a pass backdoor. I think Stotts is adjusting well.
Great explanation. Now, how do the Blazers contain Blake Griffin who has been on a tear lately?
Honestly, they might not try to. Portland has allowed career games to several players this season, mostly in wins but in some losses as well. Blake has been going off, mostly by force of circumstance with Chris Paul out. The Trail Blazers will most likely try to contain him with LaMarcus Aldridge, who will shy from hard contests to avoid likely foul trouble. Instead, Portland will try to shut down the other aspects of the Clippers offense as a means to win the game. Griffin could end up with 35 points in a loss.
That’s about what I had in mind considering the Clippers aren’t world beaters on the defensive end. Before I let you go, here’s an All-Star weekend question. Of the the five events Damian Lillard is competing in, how many does he walk away as the victor of?
Three. I think he wins the skills challenge despite the fact he’s probably not the most skilled guy there. He’s on the best Rising Stars roster, so I think he wins that. I also think he wins the three point contest. That’s really important to him, he’s a record-setter in that department and if you don’t already know by now, he’s ice cold when it comes to pressure situations like that. Should be a big weekend for Portland.