Oct 10, 2013, 8:45 AM EDT
Last Season: The Blazers spent the first half of the season threatening for a playoff spot, but one of the worst benches in NBA history ultimately sunk the team’s chances. Damian Lillard‘s scoring prowess made him the fourth unanimous Rookie of the Year winner in NBA history, and it simulatenously provided hope that Portland’s current core can contend in the near future.
Key Player Changes:
General manager Neil Olshey pulled off some sneaky tanking last year by cobbling together an awful bench with multiple players who won’t even play in the league this season. After hitting on Lillard in the draft, it looked like the Trail Blazers might have stolen another underrated small school grad to slot in as a scoring sixth man. Unfortunately, though, C.J. McCollum’s foot injury will keep him out of action indefinitely.
Adding Thomas Robinson was an incredibly low-risk, high-reward move, as his energy and rebounding should be a welcome sight coming off the bench. Robinson will likely never be a star, but he could carve out a solid role.
If Dorell Wright’s outside shooting returns to form, he could be a steal as a versatile 3 and D guy. Mo Williams is an extremely good shooter and a decent point guard to boot, but he needs to be hidden defensively at all times.
Robin Lopez might be the addition with the biggest impact, as his pure size should help the Blazers control the paint defensively much better than last season.
Losing J.J. Hickson doesn’t hurt nearly as much as his overall numbers would indicate. Hickson was defensive poison as a center last season, and it’s telling that the Blazers were unable to flip him for any asset while he was putting up grossly inflated stats.
Keys to Portland’s Season:
1) Can an improved bench make that much of a difference?
After running his starters into the ground by necessity last season, Terry Stotts can ease off the reins a bit and trust what should be a very capable bench. The on/off ratings for Aldridge (+9.4 points per 100 possessions) and Lillard (+9.1 points per 100 possessions) illustrate just how bad Portland’s reserve unit was last year, and the heavy minutes took a toll late in the season when the defense completely collapsed.
2) Will the defense improve?
Although he’s a plodder, Robin Lopez should plug a few more gaps in this leaky defense. Matthews is still the team’s best defender despite Batum’s reputation, but a lot of the responsibility boils down to Lillard and Aldridge, who need to stop reserving so much energy for offense and start defending pick-and-roll action better.
The Blazers finished 26th in defensive efficiency last season, so there’s certainly plenty of room for improvement here. The starting unit should be explosive, but below-average defensive teams traditionally have a much harder time making the playoffs than below-average offensive teams. The Blazers have to get better here in order to fight for the 8-seed.
3) Which unexpected source can provide the lift?
It’s time for Nic Batum to live up to his potential, as he’s the player who needs to make the biggest leap on both ends for the Blazers to truly be competitive. We know what we’re getting from LaMarcus Aldridge and Wes Matthews at this point, and it’s hard to imagine Lillard being significantly better (at least offensively) in his second year.
Perhaps Lopez or Robinson can surprise and add big contributions as well, but Batum is paid too much money to simply be a very good complementary player. The additions of an improved bench and a defensive-minded center can put the Blazers in the playoff conversation alone, but Batum’s continued development as a secondary creator (his assists shot up to 4.9 a game last year) and locked-in defender has to be there.
Why You Should Watch: Damian Lillard is the definition of smooth. Robin Lopez’s hair is the best in the business. LaMarcus Aldridge has three moves he just pairs over and over again, and no one can stop it. Nic Batum in transition is an adventure. J.J. Hickson and his defense won’t make your eyes bleed anymore.
Prediction: 41-41 and the 9th seed. The Blazers should be able to beat out the other hapless defensive teams vying for the final playoff spot (Mavericks, Lakers), and the talent meshes better in Portland than it likely will in New Orleans. A healthy Minnesota team (oxy-moron?) is my choice for the 8th spot however, as they were much better defensively last year despite massive injuries. I need to see Portland’s defense improve drastically before I can fully believe they are a playoff team.
Mar 8, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
The Cavaliers raised the jersey of Zydrunas Ilgauskas to the rafters on Saturday, following a ceremony at halftime of Cleveland’s matchup with the Knicks. Ilgauskas delivered a speech and thanked the fans as is customary at these events, and LeBron James was in attendance to honor his former teammate, who had requested his presence. The…
Mar 8, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
Glen Davis has only been a member of the Clippers for four games, but he’s already sensing something special about his new team. Davis was bought out by the Magic and signed with Los Angeles less than two weeks ago, but played for Doc Rivers in Boston during his first four NBA seasons. He was…
Mar 8, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Carl Landry appeared in a career-high 81 games for the Warriors last season, and was a key reserve who averaged 10.8 points and six rebounds on a team that made it to the second round of the playoffs. The Kings haven’t sniffed the postseason in eight years, but signed Landry to a four-year deal worth…
Mar 8, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
Phil Jackson was first offered a head coaching position with the Knicks this week, even though Mike Woodson is still (for reasons unknown) firmly in place. Jackson declined that one, so New York upped the ante with a front office job offer, one that Jackson would reportedly be deciding on in the coming week. No…
Mar 8, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
BOSTON – On Paul Pierce’s first defensive possession as the Brooklyn Nets’ full-time starting power forward, Serge Ibaka backed him down on the block. Pierce bodied Ibaka, keeping him out of the paint, and Ibaka threw the ball away. On the Oklahoma City Thunder’s next possession, Ibaka posted up Pierce again. Pierce hardly yielded an…
Mar 8, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
UPDATE 6:20 p.m.: Batum’s nose is not broken after all, according to an updated CSNNW.com report. It’s being called a nasal contusion, and it hasn’t yet been determined if it will require a protective mask. 4:30 p.m.: Well, we know he can’t wear a black mask to protect his face going forward. Portland’s starting swingman…
Mar 8, 2014, 3:01 PM EDT
O.J. Mayo has been suspended one game without pay for “forcibly striking” Greg Stiemsma in the throat during Friday night’s loss to the Pelicans, the league announced on Saturday via official release. This comes as no surprise, as Mayo’s teammate Ersan Ilyasova received a similar suspension for even less of an offense that occurred in…
Mar 8, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Paul Pierce is finishing out his Hall of Fame career with the Nets at the moment, after playing 15 seasons with the Celtics and rising to the top of many of the franchise’s all-time statistical leaders lists. Pierce returned to Boston for the second time this season wearing a different jersey on Friday, but he’ll…
Mar 8, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Because the Lakers haven’t been embarrassed enough lately… That is Jodie Meeks just getting dropped by Ty Lawson‘s crossover during the Nuggets 134-126 win over the Lakers Friday night in a real defensive struggle. Lawson threw a series of moves at Meeks and got him off balance before dropping the hammer (then making the dish…
Mar 8, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Late in the third quarter Friday with the Rockets leading the Pacers by 23 points, James Harden and Evan Turner got into it a bit, and the players had to be separated after getting face-to-face and a little shoving ensued. This appeared to be Harden intentionally agitating things, as this play had been whistled dead…
Mar 8, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Even after three straight losses, the Indiana Pacers remain the team with the league’s best record, though they’re now tied with Oklahoma City for that honor while sitting at 46-16 in the standings. But the last two losses have been troubling. On Wednesday, Indiana lost by 22 points to a Bobcats team that is five…
Mar 8, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Earlier this week I gave you a few highlights of my conversation with author Jeff Pearlman, who has a fantastic new book out on the Showtime era Lakers. Now, I bring you our entire conversation. In this latest edition of the PBT podcast myself and Eytan Shander of NBC Sports Radio discuss Phil Jackson and his…
Mar 8, 2014, 2:54 AM EDT
The Lakers have lost a lot of games this season (42 to be exact), but the historic 48-point blowout loss to the Clippers Thursday night on national television hit the fan base hard. Many of these fans rooting for them to lose and get a better draft pick were embarrassed at the lack of defensive…
Josh McRoberts with an incredible behind-the-back pass to set up Chris Douglas-Roberts for three (VIDEO)
Mar 8, 2014, 12:02 AM EDT
This pass was incredible in two distinct ways. First, the ability shown by Josh McRoberts to recognize that his teammate was wide open behind the three-point line from his position in the paint was fantastic. But the pass? It wasn’t just daring to attempt, but the physical level of skill required to get it there…
Sixers coach Brett Brown on whether we’ll see Nerlens Noel play this year: “It really is, ‘Who Knows?’”
Mar 7, 2014, 10:34 PM EDT
Nerlens Noel was selected with the sixth overall pick in last summer’s draft, and the Sixers traded Jrue Holiday for him in order to jumpstart their rebuilding process. But we have yet to see Noel take the floor for Philadelphia this season, in much the same way that Andrew Bynum missed his entire year with…
Mar 7, 2014, 9:05 PM EDT
It’s been a frustrating season in Milwaukee, and it’s gotten to the point where the team’s players are taking out those emotions violently against their opponents. Ersan Ilyasova received a suspension for the punch-shove combo he delivered to Reggie Evans, and we can expect the same punishment to be handed down to O.J. Mayo, who…
Mar 7, 2014, 7:55 PM EDT
The nationally televised schedule of games that appear on TNT Thursday nights is apparently etched in stone. There’s no other way to explain the network keeping a Clippers-Lakers game on the air when a perfectly good Suns-Thunder matchup — one between two high-scoring playoff teams — was on the slate the very same night. Logistics…
Mar 7, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
Teams keep asking if Phil Jackson wants to come back to coaching. This is a guy who has had both hips and one knee replaced (with the other likely), who has spent too many years on the road sleeping in beds too short for his 6’10” frame, having showerheads hit him in the middle of…
Mar 7, 2014, 5:46 PM EDT
According to every reliable source, Carmelo Anthony is going to opt out of the final year of his contract this season and look either to re-sign a five-year deal with the Knicks or move on to another team to be part of a contender. If Anthony wants to jump ship and go somewhere like oft-mentioned…
Mar 7, 2014, 4:25 PM EDT
You can’t do that. Go ahead and argue that what Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova really did was shove the Kings’ Reggie Evans if you want, you still can’t do that. The two were battling for rebounding position and after the play Ilyasova turned on Evans punch/shoved him and knocked him to the ground. I have checked the NBA…
- Report: Phil Jackson ‘leaning toward’ accepting offer to become Knicks president 20
- Paul Pierce’s move to power forward adds twist to his career, Brooklyn Nets’ season 2
- O.J. Mayo suspended one game for punching Pelicans’ Greg Stiemsma in the throat (VIDEO) 4
- Pacers players hold locker room meeting after getting crushed by Rockets 24
- PBT Podcast: Talking Showtime Lakers with author Jeff Pearlman 9