Win or lose, the Portland Trail Blazers are a fun team to watch, and it’s a good thing to have them back in the playoffs, trying to succeed with the odds stacked against them because their playing style, especially when LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t playing, simply isn’t going to be good enough to make it far in the postseason. At least Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum make it worth watching.
The Blazers were leading the West at some point this season, but now it seems like they won’t even have home court advantage. Beating the Milwaukee Bucks 120-115 after overtime isn’t exactly a pleasing sign, but it’s at least a way to get other their heartbreaking loss to the Warriors, in which Nicolas Batum missed a free throw that could have sent the game into five more minutes of excellent basketball.
No one has ever said about Damian Lillard that efficiency is his preferred weapon. He finished with 20 points on 7-of-21 from the field, but the Blazers are built on him and Aldridge taking the bulk of the shots. Maybe it’s time for a change, but old habits die hard, and right now, with or without their power forward, Lillard is the player who has the ball in his hands, and too often tries to do some complicated things with hit.
Wesley Matthews was the best for the Blazers with 26 points on 7-of-12 from the field. While Lillard’s drive late in the fourth quarter sent the game into overtime, it was Matthews with some great defense and slick behind the back passing that set up the win for Portland, finding Lillard to finish the break.
Nicolas Batum was just short of a triple double, finishing with 21 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists, while Robin Lopez had a big day in the paint with 15 points and 14 rebounds, although defensively his dominance didn’t really translate into anything. The Bucks scored 56 points in the paint, as Zaza Pachulia and Ersan Ilyasova combined to grab 11 offensive rebounds, while Ramon Sessions and Brandon Knight combined to score 47 points from the point guard position. Khris Middleton had 18 of his own, and Pachulia finished with 17 points.
The Blazers did make it a fun overtime to watch at least, and not just through Matthews’ behind the back passing. Teams that are only about offense usually don’t get very far, and the Blazers are of the same breed. The perimeter defense besides Batum seems clueless too many times; pick & rolls and blown assignments seem to baffle everyone once they happen. The offense sometimes is too quick for its own, good, as everyone keeps looking for the 3-point shot instead of moving the ball a bit more, even if it means passing up on an open, close range shot. Too much analytics sometimes actually ruin a team’s efficiency, but in late March it might be too late to change.
Portland have a solid foundation, rebuilding from the ahses of the Brandon Roy and Greg Oden injuries. This team has a chance to be a force in the West without too many additions to the team. It’s mostly going to be about trying to change old habits, and turning this high scoring, 3-point jacking group into a team that also knows about the other side of the coin, and will be able to win games when it’s about grit, defense and brains instead of talent.