No team has a drop off like Portland when Lillard, Aldridge sit

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The first thing you should know about the +/- stat is that is says as much about the person who replaces a player as it does the player himself.

Which makes sense when you look at a fantastic bit of work by NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, a list of the NBA’s biggest difference makers — a statistical list of players whose teams have the most offensive drop off when they leave the court. It’s not just that these players are having good years, it’s that the guy replacing them is a huge step down. Like Kobe Bryant to Jodie Meeks down (hence Kobe makes Schuhmann’s list).

But the biggest drop off is in Portland — the Blazers offense is 13.3 points per 100 possessions better when Damian Lillard is on the floor, the highest number in the league. Fourth highest is LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers are 12.4 points per 100 better when he is on the floor. Schuhmann explains:

Breaking news: The Portland Trail Blazers have an awful, awful bench. Their starting lineup is good offensively, but not great, scoring 104.3 points per 100 possessions. They have lineups with three or four starters on the floor that are better. But they have no suitable back-ups for either Lillard or Aldridge. When both have been off the floor (just 127 minutes), Portland has scored less than 90 points per 100 possessions.

What they needed were guys like Jamal Crawford, except he’s with the Clippers and playing well after a terrible season last year in Portland. Same with Raymond Felton. It is maddening to Blazers fans to watch them succeed elsewhere this season.

Portland is building a team, right now they are a fringe playoff team (at 16-15 they are the eight seed as you reed this) but they are a long way from where they want to be. They have good players like Nicolas Batum and the energized J.J. Hickson, but they are a long way from competing with the best in the West. It’s a process. One that includes building a bench (if you don’t think the bench matters watch a Clippers game).

But with Lillard and Aldridge the Blazers have cornerstone guys to build around. They just have a lot of building to do, and the numbers show it.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

AP Photo/Phil Long
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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.

Mavericks’ Salah Mejri dunks while getting shoved in the gut (video)

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The Mavericks built a 13-point lead over the Thunder with 3:30left thanks to plays like this Salah Mejri dunk on Nick Collison.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Russell Westbrook happened.

Willy Hernangomez dunks on Andre Drummond, Pistons’ playoff chances (video)

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Andre Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t slow down anything.

Not Willy Hernangomez. Not the Knicks. Not Detroit’s plummeting playoff hopes.

After a 109-95 loss to the Knicks last night, the Pistons — who’ve lost four straight and seven of eight — are 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.