Jan 30, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0) maneuvers around Portland Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum (88) and forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) before scoring during the second half at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Trail Blazers 105-99. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
6. Portland : Like the Raptors in the East the Blazers weathered a storm with a key starter out for over a month and also like Toronto a key player continues to produce despite being injured.
Then the differences between these teams takes an abrupt leap: Toronto has two All-Star type players in DeRozan and Lowry but the remainder of their team are all specialists who play a role.
Portland on the other hand has arguably the strongest starting five in the Association but a weaker bench despite upgrades in the off season. We’ve seen glimpses from each of Meyers Leonard, Thomas Robinson and C.J. McCollum but none have taken a dramatic leap forward.
This could prove problematic if LaMarcus Aldridge can’t sustain his high level with the torn ligament in his thumb, but so far there hasn’t been a great dip in his play and at this point it’s too late for him to change his mind regarding the surgery.
Pretty impressive he chose to play through it and I’m sure the rabid Portland fan base is appreciative given how much heart ache they’ve suffered in recent years (Brandon Roy, Greg Oden).
Damian Lillard hasn’t looked like the same player who started the season and perhaps that’s due to fatigue or possibly teams have started to figure out a way to defend him as often occurs after seeing a player’s habits for a while.
He may have reached the stage where he needs to figure out how to adjust to how he is being defended. His 3-point shooting specifically is a major issue given each month it’s regressed since November
- November: 42.9%
- December: 35.8%
- January: 28.1%
- February: 17.2%
His assists and rebounds are slightly down in each as these months as well. It’s not the same premise of what Kyle Lowry did for Toronto with DeRozan out though because Lillard has sharp shooter Wesley Matthews and All-Star Aldridge working beside him.
The scary thing for teams around the Association is Nicolas Batum has been playing injured the entire season so this extended break while good for Aldridge and Lillard will likely do more to help Batum. If Batum comes back even slightly improved it makes Portland all that much more difficult to beat. As I pointed out with the Raptors they either need Terrence Ross to take a jump or add a skilled two-way small forward in the off season to become a consistent threat in their conference.
For the Blazers the battle is actually easier given the quality of their starting five (and assuming they retain Matthews this off season), because they only need to upgrade their bench or find a solid 6th man producer. This team is on the precipice of becoming very, very special and after all the hardships they’ve faced in the past few seasons with injuries it’s hard not to root for them.
Heading into their final 29 game it won’t be easy as their schedule gets a lot tougher:
- 13 home games versus 26 on the road
- Only 6 of their remaining games are versus the East with 2 of those against top 4 teams (Raptors/Wizards)
- In fact of the remaining 29 games 17 are against teams over .500
- They have 8 games remaining versus their division (but they are arguably the easiest division of the West: Pacific)
- OKC trails them by 8 games so it’s unlikely they’ll be caught, however an injury coupled with a strong Thunder run could change that quickly (they play the Thunder 2 more times)
(last week 9th)
Next: 1,000 wins and counting?