Blazers 106, Mavs 104 Reaction: Damiancrantz and LaMarcustern Are Dead

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Do you know the scene at the beginning of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead? The two title characters are riding along when Rosencrantz, here played by Gary Oldman, stops to pick up a coin. Flip after flip, thecoin turns up heads. As in, only heads. It can only go on so long before the two start to become a bit puzzled:

 

For Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the quarter is a sign that reality has shifted off its kilter, and the normal rules no longer apply in the universe. With every passing Blazer game, I am beginning to feel a little bit more like Rosencrantz.

Last night, the Blazers trailed the Mavericks by 21 points in the third quarter. J.J. Hickson was on his way to a maddening 26 points and 15 rebounds, and LaMarcus Aldridge was rolling; otherwise, the Blazers couldn’t buy a bucket. When Terry Stotts shifted to a small lineup featuring Luke Babbitt and Sasha Pavlovic, though, the Blazers cut the lead to six headed into the fourth, and regular observer had the same thought: “Again?”

For a couple games, I had a reasonable running tally of how the Blazers were doing in close games; they were, say, 10 and 1 in games decided by six points or fewer. Now, I have no idea. There have been too many for me to keep straight, and too many of them have been wins for me to make sense of it. Back to Rosencrantz.

Now, I know the Blazers’ games are not governed by the same probability of a coin toss, and in fact they lost a whole bunch of these close games in their six-game losing streak two weeks ago. But for the moment when Rosencrantz’s coin is in the air, we’re existentially in the same place. The Blazers can’t come back again. They can’t find a way to make another final minute insane. There are rules governing these sorts of things, aren’t there? But when the coin hits the palm, the rules seem invalidated again.

Last night, it took LaMarcus Aldridge’s first three of the season. It took five straight points from Sasha Pavlovic to piece together a comeback run. It took Ronnie Price drawing a charge on O.J. Mayo with four seconds left and what seemed like a wide open layup. Perhaps it’s best expressed this way: The Blazers seem to continually be in positions where every small, infinitely unlikely thing has to occur for them to even stay competitive. And it keeps happening.

After 76 straight heads, Guildenstern says to Rosencrantz: “Consider. One: Probability is a factor which operates within natural forces. Two: Probability is not operating as a factor. Three: We are now held within un-, sub-, or super-natural forces.” These are the sorts of conversations you have with yourself at 10:30 after the Blazers have made a fool of you again to sneak out a one-shot win. Un-, sub-, or supernatural forces. When they lose, it makes sense—this team is so thin and so jump-shot reliant that a host of rational culprits can be found after just about any loss. Hell, Damian Lillard, Wes Matthews, and Nic Batum finished a combined 12 of 37 last night, so you wouldn’t have had to squint too much to make sense of this particular loss. But instead, they won, and I’m sitting here contemplating probabilities and my own susceptibility to the availability heuristic trying to piece together a sensible narrative to explain a 23-22 record, and another win over a team with playoff hopes.

In the Blazers’ case, it seems that even more than boring old probability is working against them. Every win seems to throw the franchise’s short-term goals into more confusion. Losing, we could understand. You might be losing because you’re playing younger players or have a new coach or are improving your draft stock. There are any number of good reasons for the Blazers to be losing, and a few benefits they might luck into by dropping the odd game here and there because of those reasons. But the way these wins keep piling up? These crazy-making, joyfully improbably wins? Like Guildenstern says: “A lesser man might begin to question his faith. At least in the law of probability.”

 

Preview: Blazers versus Mavericks

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I remember when the Dallas Mavericks beat the Miami Heat for the 2011 NBA Championship. This is not that team. The Mavs currently sit at 19-25 behind the 22-22 Blazers, led not by Dirk Nowitzki but O.J. Mayo. Nowitzki recently returned from missing the first 27 games of the season, sidelined by a knee injury and shooting 41.5% from the floor, which is well off from his career 47.4%. However with Dirk back in the line up the Mavericks’ offensive efficiency has soared from 99.6 to 112.4. Over the past few weeks, we’ve witnessed the Blazers bare their weaknesses: fatigue, lack of depth, and a penchant for getting into a deep hole early on. But to their credit they’ve outperformed everyone’s expectations and give up few easy wins. Expect a hard fought game every night.

The Blazer’s starting five handle the offense capably with all of them in double digit scoring and over 42% shooting. Everyone one on the bench is shooting 37% or lower, with the exception of rookie big man Meyers Leonard who is hovering around 59% but only averages 3.4 shot attempts per game. The Dallas starters are similarly stacked, but the key difference is again the bench, which is averaging 40.8 points per game. I don’t want to place all the blame for Portland’s struggles onto their bench because the starters are ranked just 5th in defensive efficiency…wait. The production the Blazers starters are managing with the added pressure of their miserable bench baffles me because they really do everything for an average of 35.5 minutes a night. If Terry Stotts’ goal was to emulate Tom Thibodeau consider that checked off.

STATS STUFF:

Portland starters average points per game: 80.4 Portland starters average minutes: 35.5

Dallas starters average points per game: 60.1 Dallas starters average minutes: 28.6

Possible Headlines:

Remember when Chris Kaman was an All-Star? He reminded us.

Blazers Revenge Game for Losing in the 2011 Playoffs

Lillard dunks over Nowitzki prompting “Was war das?”

Preview: Blazers versus Clippers

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Oh how fun! A back to back with the LA Clippers. Mercifully, at least, the Blazers won’t have to deal with Chris Paul, as he’s out with a bruised knee. Also Blake Griffiin is day to day, but expected to play. The third best team in the West is also on a three game losing streak. I’m expecting the Clips to come out hungry but hopefully the home court advantage holds tonight in the Blazers’ favor. The best bet the Blazers have to beat this deep team has to be tonight, rather than tomorrow in LA at the Staples Center after everyone has played heavy minutes. Since I see everything in numbers: this back to back(2x) of the third (3) best team in the West plus the Blazers three days off (3) and that I’ve missed watching the last two games (2) adds up to (8×2) or 88, and that means a big night for Batum.

Jamal Crawford: I remember this dude. He’s averaging 16.7 ppg, 2.1apg, and 1.7rpg on the season. But during the month of January he’s upped his production slightly to 17.4 ppg and he’s shooting 41.3% from inside the arc and 40.3% from outside. I don’t believe Jamal Crawford harbors any ill will towards the Blazers, but I do believe he’s gonna shoot very well and incur many pained yells of JAAAAMAAL. On the Blazers’ end I think we all know what to expect at this point. The main worry is LaMarcus Aldridge falling off after his All-Star nod (which I don’t think will happen). I also like the consistency from Nicolas Batum at trying to do everything.

Statatats:

Blake Griffin shooting 72% in the restricted area versus Aldridge’s 63%

Lamarcus Aldridge shooting 41% from mid-range versus Griffin’s 36%

Rebounding: Aldridge 8.8 per game, Griffin 8.5 per game

Headlines:

With Chris Paul out, Lillard leads Blazers

With Chris Paul out, Eric Bledsoe!

With Chris Paul out, Blazers ask Clippers “How u?”

The Growing Impurity of Damian Lillard

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Damian Lillard understands the point guard culture wars. I don’t know this for a fact, I guess, but everything about Lillard’s cultivated demeanor since entering the NBA suggests he has a rare understanding of the various pressures placed on the position by fans’ expectations. He understands what fans and some media want out of their point guard’s attitude, and this savvy allows him to assume the mantle—and the laurels—of a “pure” point guard even as he grows away from the archetype.

I can’t kick this hornets’ nest without discussing the idea of a pure point guard a little bit. You know the type: selfless when it comes to taking shots but an unwavering control freak when it comes to the quality of a teams’ shots. The pure point guard “sets teammates up” before “looking for his own shot.” Often, he “lets his teammates get in a rhythm” before deciding when to “exert his will” on a game. Beg your pardon for the excessive scare quotes, but it’s sort of impossible to talk about these ideas without acknowledging that they’re largely bogus.

The Pure Point Guard is seated on Olympus next to the Post-up Big Man, the one dishing no-look grape lobs to the other in a ceaseless bacchanal of virtue. The Pure Point Guard does not play basketball; he is the manifestation of fans’ desires to see their own ideas about basketball enacted by more talented players. The Pure Point Guard, like the Coach’s Son and his cousin the Pocket Quarterback, is a way for fans to believe that the noblest route to success in the NBA, or sport in general, is an ascetic dedication to studying the game. You don’t have to be 6’5” or really fast to be a Pure Point Guard, you must simply dedicate your time on the court to the virtues of selflessness and geometry.

In Olympus’ pick-up games, the Pure Point Guard exerts his control over the games largely without getting closer to the rim than the elbow. On those occasions he drives into the lane, he stares down a shooter in the corner as he whips a pass around a defender to the Post-up Big Man, who points and nods with their shared appreciation of the Pure Point Guard’s Vision. For the Pure Point Guard is a scalpel, not a hammer, and his role is to make incisions only when they are prescribed by the needs of his Team.

Damian Lillard is not a Pure Point Guard, but it is my sense that he is widely assumed to be. Forgive me if this is a straw man, as I will forgive any who believe in Lillard’s purity; whether he is widely considered to have attained Purity or not, he is plainly cultivating it. But like anybody with a strong grasp of rhetoric, he is not cultivating it with his actions nearly as much as he is with his words.

On the court, Lillard ranks 33rd in assist percentage among guards, 15th in raw assists per game among guards, and 10th in field goal attempts per game among guards. Those scions of Purity, Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul, sit next to each other atop the guard rankings for assist and assist percentage, and at 24th and 25th in field goal attempts per game among guards. I’m not arguing that Damian Lillard is not a facilitator or a proper offensive catalyst—he is quite plainly both of those things, and excellently so—but I mean to say that whatever on-court pattern aligns with Purity, Damian does not neatly fit it.

And yet, he is constantly deluged by Purity praise, it seems. When on Twitter I discuss Damian’s Rookie of the Year candidacy, my mentions are flooded with the idea that he “makes his teammates better” in a way that others do not. This seems to me a clear result of the calm, controlled persona that Lillard is either imbued with or has constructed, and that is being sold by other players and coaches. Gregg Popovich praised Lillard’s “demeanor” and that he “plays within himself” and Terry Stotts is fond of saying Damian “reads the game.” It is hard to imagine these things being said of Russell Westbrook, who is to Pure Point Guards as Lucifer to Eve.

The reason I bring this whole thing up at all is because last night was perhaps Lillard’s least Pure outing of the season, and also perhaps his best. Averaging a shade under four shots a game at the rim, he took six last night, and converted five. Including two made free-throws he got from and-one drives, Lillard accounted for 12 points at the rim last night, and did not make a three. On one drive in the third quarter, Lillard rose in isolation and twisted around a help defender, evoking the physicality of Derrick Rose, suspended in the air and leaning away from the hoop, his torso flexing but his shoulders square.

I don’t make a Rose comparison here because the two are on similar planes, but because as Lillard gets more efficient, he begins to fall more cleanly into evolutionary class of point guards Rose seemed to usher in. The class, I mean to say, that is so often used as a contrast to the Pure Point Guard. Lillard is becoming more functionally explosive by the game, while his vision remains as direct as ever. Damian is a willing passer, and a good one, but his assists are more acts of recognition than creation. As he gets smarter about the NBA game, he seems to be getting wiser about where to deploy his jets, not where to thread the needle. It is no coincidence that last night Damian had just his third 0 turnover game to pair with his eight assists.

Now obviously, Damian is not setting up a persona as a smokescreen. There’s no intentional deception about the kind of player that he is. But I do think he has an understanding that behaving a certain way, and cultivating a certain image, will buy him more freedom on the court. And that’s a good thing. For as long as he is able to pay his tributes at the altar as Point Guard Purity, he’ll be free to grow into the most effective player he can be.  

******

Find me on Twitter @dmnowell

Preview: Blazers versus Pacers

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This game does not bode well for the Blazers. The 26-16 Pacers, good for 1st place in the Central Division, come in on a two game win streak. Their defense is top notch and the Blazers’ defense is… not. Offensively, the Pacers are less dangerous, but this is a daunting team to see coming out of the tunnel when you’re trying to snap a six-game losing streak. I was trying to find a weird trend, but every series against the East has been split so far (except for the Wizards who got the Blazers 2-0). Portland may come out on fire and show their offensive chops; more likely, they struggle to get good looks as the Pacers key in on the their few threats. The last Pacers game I watched was an unwatchable mess that ended in a very exciting 81-76 in favor of Indiana. So take that for what you will.

I really enjoy small forwards that do a little of everything, like Nicolas Batum and Paul George. The two are posting similar numbers and while Batum already has a reputation as an elite defender, Paul George is earning his this season. I mention these similarities because while Batum has finally discovered consistency and improved many parts of his game, George has been straight killing it these past few games. Nic needs to have a big game to help push the Blazers over the top and end the streak. And he knows it, because while a triple double is nice, it’s not always enough to prevent a loss.

Stats:

Some findings from the Hollinger Power Rankings:

Over the second quarter of the season, the Blazers’ margin fell as their schedule got stiffer: On the season they’re being outscored by an average of 2.24 points against opponents batting a collective .487, while the second quarter of the season saw a slate of .500 foes outgun the Blazers by an average 3.27. Looks like that schedule is catching up.

Conversely, the Pacers are getting better while facing tougher teams. Their opponents’ SOS rose slightly to .475, as compared to a .472 season average, while their average margin of victory improved more than a point in a half in that same span.

So it looks like the Pacers are getting stronger against better teams, while the Blazers are starting to buckle a bit under the schedule’s weight. That makes an unlikely win against the Pacers take on an outsize importance, with matchups against the Clippers and Mavericks on the way.

Possible Headlines:

Blazers Brutally Bashed By Indiana Blocks

Streak Snapped, Blazers Edge Out Pacers

What Is a Pacer? Like, a Pace Car? Is That What Indiana Is Proud Of?

Indiana Outpaces Portland, Like a Car Does

Maybe “Pacer” Refers to a Horse?

Midseason Report: The Chaos Engine, Derailed

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Before the regular season started, the PRS staff took turns guessing the Blazers’ win total. I predicted Portland would finish the season with 24 wins. Halfway through the season, it’s safe to say that guess was low. They’re already at 20 and somehow, improbably, are just one game under .500 on the year. In some ways, it’s confusing. But in others, it makes perfect sense.

Let’s be clear about one thing: this team is not good. They’re in the thick of the race for the eighth seed in the playoffs right now, but they won’t be there at the end of the season. Nothing about what they’ve been doing is sustainable. The amount of overtime and close regulation games they’ve won was crying out for regression, and the current six-game losing streak is starting to bear that out. Whatever Terry Stotts insists to the contrary, the fact that three of the Blazers’ five starters are averaging at least 38 minutes per game is going to catch up to them, be it in the form of an injury or just general burnout. And when it does, things will get ugly, because they have arguably the worst bench in the NBA. However, even the biggest skeptic about this roster can’t deny that the team is a lot better than anyone thought they’d be going into the season, and the things that have made it so are what makes the future of the franchise so promising.

I’ll admit that I didn’t know a lot about Stotts when he was hired, outside of his less-than-stellar head coaching record with the Hawks and Bucks from several years ago. He seemed like a “safe” hire, without much upside but someone Neil Olshey and Paul Allen could sell to fans as having head coaching experience. He had Rick Carlisle’s endorsement, having spent four years as an assistant with the Mavericks, but the choice felt uninspired.

With his first season in Portland at the halfway mark, however, it’s clear that Stotts was absolutely the right man for the job. I couldn’t be more impressed with what he’s gotten out of this roster, both from a basketball standpoint and as an off-court leader. His movement-heavy offense has done wonders in maximizing Nicolas Batum’s talents. Stotts deserves Coach of the Year consideration for what he’s done with Batum alone. His emphasis on the pick-and-roll has also helped foster great chemistry between Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. And most importantly, he’s swiftly won the respect of everyone on the team. After the disastrous end to Nate McMillan’s tenure last season, the need for a unified locker room was made plain if the franchise was to recover, and the fact that he’s gotten everyone to buy in despite the recent losing streak and other tough stretches earlier in the season speaks volumes.

Beyond Batum, whose recent growth I wrote about extensively last week and our own Danny Nowell has also written beautifully about, the player who has deservedly garnered the most attention from fans and media alike is the rookie Lillard. His Rookie of the Year campaign isn’t as clear-cut as it appeared at the beginning of the season, with Anthony Davis healthy and looking as good as advertised, and Andre Drummond dominating in limited minutes in Detroit. But while Lillard’s performance has inevitably slid since his otherworldly first few games in the league, he’s shown an ability to adapt his game and correct his shortcomings which will serve him well going forward. His month-by-month splits at HoopData have shown him steadily improving as a finisher around the rim and growing more efficient with his midrange shot. His assist rate and turnover rate have also improved month-to-month. Taken as a whole, his shooting percentages are underwhelming, but mySynergySports ranks him 24th in the NBA in scoring efficiency in pick-and-rolls, 12th in isolations, and 14th in spot-ups. His advanced age for a rookie lowers his ceiling, and makes it unlikely that he’ll ever rank with the truly elite point guards, the Chris Pauls and Russell Westbrooks and Kyrie Irvings of the league. But make no mistake: Lillard’s been very, very good, and the organization has every reason to believe it’s in good hands with him running the offense.

I’m offering a mea culpa on Wesley Matthews, whom I killed during the summer and the preseason. So far, his dreadful 2011-12 season is looking more like an outlier than a genuine regression. His numbers aren’t quite up to his excellent first season with the Blazers in 2010-11, but they’re far closer to that benchmark than they are to last year. In particular, his laughably bad 49.5 percent efficiency on shots at the rim from last season is back up to a healthy 58.8, and he’s hitting three-pointers at a 39.5 percent clip. As one of the longer-tenured Blazers (strange as it sounds, given that he’s only in his third season with the club, only Aldridge and Batum outrank him in that regard), he’s also assumed something of a leadership role, preaching consistency and accountability.

As for Aldridge, I’ve long been an advocate of trading him sooner rather than later to maximize return and commit to a full rebuild, but now I’m not so sure. With the Blazers’ core developing faster than anticipated, Aldridge is worth keeping around while Olshey adds ancillary pieces, rather than trading to blow the entire roster up. Plus, he’s been pretty great. He’s been taking more long twos, a function of Stotts’ attempts to adapt this roster to the Dirk Nowitzki-centered offense he and Carlisle ran in Dallas. And while Aldridge is (obviously) not nearly the shooter Nowitzki is, his efficiency from midrange has held relatively consistent with previous seasons even as the volume has increased. He still ranks 22nd in the league as a post scorer, per Synergy. But the biggest jump, by far, has been his defense. Erik Gundersen’s excellent recent piece on Blazers.com broke this down in more detail, but according to Synergy, he’s allowing a mere 0.58 points per possession on post-ups, the ninth-best mark in the league.

So that’s what’s going well for the Blazers. Unfortunately, their four best players cannot play 48 minutes a game (“We’ll see about that,” said Tom Thibodeau), and besides the obvious bench issues, there’s still that whole thing where J.J. Hickson is their starting center. His double-doubles are great official team social-media fodder, but to me he’s the definition of a player who’s great to have on your fantasy team and not so great to have on your actual team.

Hickson has benefitted enormously from the realization that he isn’t a player for whom offensive sets should be drawn up, but he still takes a couple of cringeworthy 20-footers a game. The much-ballyhooed rebounding numbers are mostly empty calories. According to the on-court/off-court tracking site nbawowy.com, the Blazers grab 49.5 percent of all available rebounds when Hickson is on the floor, and 50.1 percent of total boards when he’s on the bench. And that’s before we get to his liability as a defender, the likes of which no metric can do justice. He steps on the basketball court for the sole purpose of racking up double-doubles, and as long as the rebound is there for him, it matters not whether he could have taken away a shot attempt in the first place. When the Blazers were winning earlier in the month, that was something you could generally look the other way on. But now that this team is starting to become who we thought they were, the fact that their starting center can’t guard anybody can’t really be ignored.

The worst part of this is that, having signed a one-year deal equivalent to a qualifying offer, Hickson has the right to veto any trade. There are a few contenders (the Clippers, Heat, and Celtics, namely) who could use rebounding help, but given his free-agent status, it’ll be tough to get more than a second-round pick for him. It’s a mortal lock that a GM is going to see his gaudy per-game numbers this summer and offer him a contract that will be held up as an example of bad-contract excess during the next lockout in 2017. He’s having a better statistical season than Kris Humphries did last season, and Humphries got $12 million per year this summer. Trading Hickson would do wonders to ensure that that GM won’t be Olshey. I’d like to think he’s smarter than that, but since this team isn’t going to make the playoffs, I’d rather see Meyers Leonard get more time with the starters.

The bench just sort of is what it is at this point. You can’t rely on any of them for anything. Ronnie Price is a passable-ish defender but a poor shooter, passer, and ballhandler, all of which are terrific qualities for a primary backup point guard. Nolan Smith is somehow worse. (Coincidentally, how many of the Hickson contract headaches would be solved by having Kenneth Faried locked up on a rookie deal for two more years?) Luke Babbitt is still sort of fun to make Dougie and Chalupa jokes about, but he tries to do things besides shoot threes sometimes, and that’s a problem. Will Barton could be really good once he learns how to play basketball. I’ve written that Victor Claver could be effective as a Thabo Sefolosha-type starter, but his play so far certainly hasn’t demanded he be given that role. Sasha Pavlovic exists and that’s as infuriating as ever. Only the rookies will likely be here next year. I’m over it.

On Saturday, Olshey admitted to the Oregonian’s Jason Quick that he misjudged how close the Lillard/Batum/Aldridge nucleus was to playoff contention, saying that if he had a do-over, he would have spent more money on the bench to try to put them over the top. That may be hard for fans to hear who have their sights set on the playoffs, but it’s an understandable mistake to make. All it means is Olshey wasn’t any higher on the team going into the season than anyone else was, and given NBA teams’ propensity towards overvaluing their own players, it’s better in the long run that he underestimated his roster and preserved flexibility than overestimated it and signed a marginal player to a contract he’d regret later.

The good news is that Olshey doesn’t have to add a star, just bench players who aren’t Ronnie Price and Sasha Pavovic. He recently rejected the idea that he would subscribe to the “big three” model, and out of the Blazers’ core players, Aldridge, Batum, and Matthews are already locked into long-term contracts at decent values. When it comes time to take care of Lillard financially in a few years, Olshey won’t have a James Harden/Serge Ibaka situation on his hands where he has to let one of his core pieces go (provided, of course, he makes smart decisions with the cap space he’ll have in the meantime).

In all likelihood, the second half of the season won’t be as eventful as the first. The feel-good, “WTF just happened” victories over the Spurs, Grizzlies, Knicks, and Heat were fun and exciting, but the current losing streak has brought things back down to a realistic level of expectation. A Hickson trade would be a tacit admission on the part of the organization that ping-pong balls are the priority. Either way, wins and losses don’t matter to the 2012-13 Blazers nearly as much as the development of their most important players. And on that front, there should be plenty to get excited about.

Email me: highkin.sean@gmail.com | Twitter: @shighkinNBA

Recap: Wizards 98, Blazers 95

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A few notes:

  • Meyers Leonard played for the first time since rolling his ankle on Dec. 29. He looked good in limited minutes, scoring 6 points on 3-of-3 shooting and grabbing four rebounds. His midrange game is starting to get there.
  • Damian Lillard, capable of dunking the ball.
  • The last three seasons, the Blazers have hit rock bottom following a loss to the Wizards. This is the second time it’s happened this season. They’re up to a season-high six straight losses. There’s not much to say at this point.

Preview: Blazers versus Wizards

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Last year on my wife’s birthday (also the day we got engaged), I watched the Blazers fall and break into pieces against the Wizards. A month later Nate McMillan was gone. I hate to feel responsible, but I do. That day had reached its allotment of good things. Today I sit here watching the Blazers return to earth having lost five in a row, now confronting the Wizards again. This game is a must win, the fans want to believe and the Blazers need to win to avoid spiraling out of control once more.


In their last meeting, the Wizards beat the Blazers 84-82 when J.J. Hickson missed a 5-footer, and they did so without guard John Wall. With Wall’s return this D.C. club has won three of its last five. I said last game that Lillard needed to break out of his slump after being held to 13 points against Cleveland. He did just that, chipping in 26 points and 10 assists in a losing effort against the Bucks. Look for a battle of these two young point guards to dictate where this game goes.


Stats:

Wizards Offensive Effeciency with out John Wall: 93.1 (30th)


Wizards Offensive Effeciency with John Wall: 104.1 (10th)

In January: Bradley Beal: 18.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.1 apg

In January: Damian Lillard: 18.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 7.3 apg

Starters:


Washington: John Wall (PG), Bradley Beal (SG,)Martell Webster (SF), Nenê (PF), Emeka Okafor (C)

Portland: Damian Lillard (PG), Wesley Matthews (SG), Nicolas Batum (SF), LaMarcus Aldridge (PF), J.J. Hickson (C)

Possible Headlines:


Wizards Conjure Up Win


Blazers Fireball Spell Too Much For Wizards


Wall and Lillard excite and delight

Preview: Blazers versus Bucks

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After a few days off and a four game losing streak the 20-19 Blazers look to face off against the 20-18 Bucks, who won their last game against the Suns. Both teams come in after some time off, and are relatively evenly matched on both sides of the ball (The Blazers have slightly worse points allowed and slightly better points scored). Brandon Jennings has been on a roll though, enough so that he was handed out an Eastern Conference Player of the Week Award. When he plays well, this Bucks team seems to win. There shouldn’t be any surprises to this game, just hoping that our starters can beat their starters and bench. I also don’t have any jokes, something about the Bucks makes me forget.


Tonight, I’m hoping for a bounce-back effort from Lillard, who was been averaging 12.7 points per game in the last three losses. If he can return to form, it should lessen the scoring load placed onto the other four starters. LaMarcus Aldridge, in particular, is balling hard right now, putting up 25 and 10 over the last three. Monta Ellis has been supplementing Jennings’ play and chipping in about 18 per game. The Bucks big man, Larry Sanders, currently plays blocking machine, averaging a league high 3.2 on the season, which could give fits to J.J. Hickson as he battles for those easy put-backs.


Stats for Stats Sake:


Portland Points Per Game: 96.9 (14th) Milwaukee Points Per Game: 96.3 (16th)


Portland Points Allowed: 99.0 (20th) Milwaukee Points Allowed: 97.4 (16th)


Damian Lillard Points versus East: 16.3


Brandon Jennings Points versus West: 19.7


Starters:


Milwaukee: Monta Ellis (PG), Branding Jennings (SG), Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (SF), Ersan Illyasova (PF), Larry Sanders (C)


Portland: Damian Lillard (PG), Wesley Matthews (SG), Nicolas Batum (SF), LaMarcus Aldridge (PF), J.J. Hickson (C)


Possible Headlines:


Bucks and Blazers too evenly matched and bore people to death


Blazers tan Bucks’ hides


Bucks gore Blazers

Weekend Update: The Bench

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We experienced some technical difficulties last weekend. We lost this post, but were able to recover it.

Portland’s lack of depth was a much derided factor at the outset of the season and is still terrible. Every broadcast I watch ends up mentioning the fact the Blazers bench is terrible and it’s to the point I must invoke the proverbial dead horse, although I think the dead horse presents a much better defense per 100 possessions and somehow much better points per game than the actual bench players. It’s no secret that our own Sean Highkin despises Sasha Pavlovic. But Sasha can’t be blamed for everything because being the worst bench in the NBA is a team effort. Luckily, Terry Stotts realizes this and keeps a few starters all the time. This is our not-so-secret KFC recipe for success, a dash of bench and HEAVY minutes for the starters. The times when our bench appears serviceable are definitely there, but ultimately we have the 30th best bench in the league (that’s dead last if you thought that I was exaggerating when I said worst).

Our Euro friends Rudy Fernandez Victor Claver and Joel Pryzbilla Freeland don’t appear lost in America so much as overwhelmed, and there is a difference. They move well enough, but their arms and hands don’t seem to do the things they did in the ACB League as they do in the NBA. The motions are proper but fail to have the same effect. Claver’s shooting a blazing 5-22 from the floor and 2-7 from deep and Freeland has not been the second coming of Joel Pryzbilla who averaged 6.2 rebounds and 3.9 points over all his seasons in the league. I’m going to let you in on a secret, Freeland isn’t close to the Vanilla Gorilla’s career averages. These guys are new to the league, but not to basketball, and unfortunately it shows. The Spanish league may have all the A’s, B’s, and C’s, but they could use some more time in the D’s, or NBA Development League for those not into weird slang no one uses.

The native shrubs and trees, a cute term for our non-foreign point guards and centers I just made up, have given us a whopping 11.4 points per game and 3.0 turn overs per game. I understand why Ronnie Price is here, friends with Damian Lillard, but unfortunately for Nolan Smith I imagine it is only a matter of time till he is not here. Jeffries is cool. Meyers Leonard has proven himself to be a fun lil’ guy with a very obvious upside but right now has been providing more amazing RAGE faces than real defense.

From beyond the arc, our 3-point snipers could use some more practice at the shooting range as Pavlovic and Babbitt are putting up .297 and .350 from behind the line that’s furthest away from the basket. I thought Luke’s attempts at going inside had been faring poorly, but he’s shooting better than from deep, .373. As much as I love him trying to improve his non-chalupa game, it looks like a mangle, burnt quesadilla I cooked in a pan without butter once (Tasted terrible and I couldn’t pick it up with my hands because it would disentigrate). At this point, I’d like to see if we could get away with switching Ben Golliver with Sasha Pavlovic, mainly because Ben’s legs are cramping in media row. It really couldn’t hurt to try right. I think Ben could bring a good presence and really body up guys.

I’m not going talk about Will Barton because he has not played in the last three games and I have a terrible memory. I will also avoid disparaging Elliot Williams because the pain of multiple season ending injuries is pain enough for three men. I hope this helps you catch up with the 30th ranked bench in the NBA. It’s obviously a work in progress; however, I have faith, a deep-rooted irrational faith but faith nonetheless. Terry Stotts is an offensive wizard (I heard he lives in a tower deep in the Hills of Boro), and has cast a spell of increase abilities on Nicolas Batum. So let’s all believe together and pray a few basketball rosaries for our Blazers bench.