Tag: Portland Trailblazers


51 Q: Which team takes biggest step back this season?


51 Questions in 51 Days. PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:


Kurt Helin: Portland Trail Blazers

Portland is the clear and obvious choice — they lost or traded LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, and Nicolas Batum. That’s four starters out the door (plus guys like Arron Afflalo), and the guys they brought in are not of the same quality — many are not good jump shooters. When Aldridge chose to take his talents to San Antonio, the Blazers wisely decided to rebuild — and it’s a lot easier to rebuild when you start with a piece like Damian Lillard. But it’s going to be a process, at times a painful one. What they do offensively now must change — they loved the pick-and-pop with Aldridge, but now their big guys can’t shoot with range, so they are going to roll and that will draw defenders into the paint, meaning things will get clogged. It’s going to be a rough season in Portland.

One team that will push Portland for the crown? The Atlanta Hawks. They won 60 games last season and I expect a healthy step back for a few reasons: 1) They weren’t as good as their record last year, they had the point differential of a 56-win team; 2) They are going to miss DeMarre Carroll on the wing, especially with Thabo Sefolosha still trying to come back from injury; 3) Last season in the regular season they were fortunate to be largely healthy, odds say they will not be that lucky again. The Hawks are still a quality playoff team, they made some quality pickups in the offseason such as Tiago Splitter, but they will fall back to reality this season.

Dan Feldman: Portland Trail Blazers

Portland — largely by design, once LaMarcus Aldridge left — has chosen to take a step back. And it should be a large step. The Trail Blazers SLUMPED to a 51-31 finish last season. When everyone was healthy, they at least belonged in the championship-contender conversation. Now, it’d be a minor miracle if they won 51 games, let alone seriously enter the playoff race. They let Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo walk in free agency, and they traded Nicolas Batum. That’s just too much attrition from a team that values continuity, especially when the replacements are so young and unproven. I like what the Trail Blazers are doing. I just don’t expect them to win much this season.

Sean Highkin: Boston Celtics

Boston was the surprise of the second half of last season, going 20-11 after the All-Star break and sneaking into the playoffs as the seventh seed. It’s to Brad Stevens’ enormous credit that this roster of mostly spare parts played as well as it did down the stretch. And none of the moves they made this summer were bad, per se — it’s just hard to see where they got definitively better, at least to the point where they can definitely be penciled in as a definite playoff team. They re-signed Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko to good value contracts and signed Amir Johnson to fortify the paint, but they still lack an identity beyond “scrappy overachievers.” They have four point guards now, and none of them (save for maybe Marcus Smart) are the clear long-term answer. Danny Ainge is still waiting for the day when the years of asset collecting translate into a star. It’s certainly not anybody on this roster, which is full of players who are the fourth or fifth-best player on a good team. Boston should be right around where they were last season: in the mix for one of the final playoff spots in the East, but without a clear path forward.

Earth to Houston: LaMarcus Aldridge is a problem. Is Howard the answer?


Earth to Houston: LaMarcus Aldridge is a problem.

That bit of information is obvious to the most junior of fans, but Kevin McHale and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard have yet to get the memo.

Howard finished ninth in this year’s DPOY voting and probably deserved to finish somewhere in that ballpark.  But he and McHale have yet to embrace the challenge that Aldridge presents by allowing Howard to put those defensive skills to work.

Out of 80 possessions we tracked in Game 2, Howard was called upon to defend Aldridge just 25 times. Most of the remaining defensive possessions went to Omer Asik, who clocked in at 51 assignments, with the remaining four going to Terrence Jones and Chandler Parsons. About a third of Asik’s covers happened with Howard off the floor, and Asik dominated the fourth quarter covers.

Make no mistake, hitting 18-of-28 shots in Game 2 it didn’t matter who was covering Aldridge – he was torching them. He beat Howard on 5-of-6 challenges and the only thing that saved Asik was a series of eight consecutive misses by Aldridge – though the tape would show it had less to do with Asik than it did the fact that mere mortals can’t make every shot. Prior to that Asik gave up points or fouls on 9-of-10 chances against Portland’s big man.

Any way you slice it, with Aldridge averaging just under 45 points per game so far and setting records for his fast start, something has to change. Kevin McHale would prefer to keep Howard on Robin Lopez in order to protect the defensive glass, and a close second to that is keeping Howard out of foul trouble. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and being down 2-0 heading into Portland tonight would fall into that bucket.

On the other end of the floor, the Rockets have spent considerable time using Howard against Lopez on offense, and true to season-long form that has been productive for them. But in Game 2 the Rockets’ pair of wings in James Harden (6-of-19 FGs) and Chandler Parsons (5-of-15 FGs) didn’t get many easy looks as a result of it. While Howard’s offensive game has improved this season, it’s still not to the point where it consistently makes players around him better. Taking a page out of everybody’s book against the big man, the Blazers are more than willing to let Howard beat them if it means that threes aren’t raining on their heads.

Playoff adjustments usually determine the winner in a closely-matched series. If Howard is the defensive player many folks say he is, it goes without saying that the Rockets need to go all-in with the superstar assignment. Aldridge isn’t going to continue shooting at his current high-volume 60 percent from the field, but one more big game tonight and the series is all-but over.

Even though Howard is facing-up Lopez at will, the Rockets would be wise to open up the game plan by unleashing Harden and Parsons with high pick-and-roll action, since both guys are having a hard time getting penetration against sturdy defenders Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum. If Howard is the defensive player folks make him out to be, he should be both willing and able to make his matchup with Aldridge a wash. With Patrick Beverley effectively slowing down Damian Lillard, and Howard theoretically doing the same to Aldridge, the rest of the Rockets’ pieces should be able to outscore their Portland counterparts.

But Houston has it backwards right now, saving Howard for offense when he is needed on defense. It begs the question of whether or not McHale believes he can answer the call against Aldridge. If he can’t, it may be time to re-evaluate where he stands in the league’s defensive pecking order.

Can the Dallas Mavericks repeat as NBA champions?

Dallas Mavericks v Miami Heat - Game Six

After a trying, decade-long run that consistently placed them along the title’s periphery, the Dallas Mavericks finally claimed their first ever NBA championship last June. The fact that Dirk and the Mavs are the reigning champs still seems like a hazy dream — a vision almost too similar to a storybook to be real, and an image obscured just enough by the lockout to give it that ethereal glow. But the trophy itself is no fantasy, and the Mavs will set out this season to defend their right to another one just like it with every resource at their disposal.

It won’t be easy. Even with an impressive run of low-cost off-season additions, the Mavs are hardly in a position to repeat as the league’s champions:

Losing the “best offense”

Contrary to their offense-first reputation, the Mavericks were a surprisingly balanced team last year, as they finished the regular season ranked eighth in both offensive and defensive efficiency. It was that two-way effectiveness that really pushed Dallas over the top in the NBA Finals; although Dirk Nowitzki was a certifiable terror all throughout the Mavs’ playoff run, it was the team’s defensive flexibility that allowed them to corral LeBron James and Dwyane Wade with the title on the line.

Dwane Casey, the former Mavs assistant who now sits at the head of the bench for the Toronto Raptors, was a big part of that. It was Casey’s system that put Dallas’ many defensive elements into their appropriate context, and turned Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, and Tyson Chandler into versatile, switchable, and highly deployable defensive weapons. Dallas just had so much size and mobility across the board, and that positional flexibility gave the Mavs an uncommon success in defending the pick-and-roll.

Things could get slightly tougher without Casey, even though his system has been handed off to assistant coach Monte Mathis. Yet they’re assuredly going to be more difficult without Tyson Chandler, who didn’t receive the long-term security or financial commitment he desired from the Mavs in free agency. Chandler is now a New York Knickerbocker, leaving some combination of Brendan Haywood, Ian Mahinmi, Dirk Nowitzki, Lamar Odom, and Brandan Wright to fill in minutes as Dallas’ defensive anchor. Haywood is still quite underrated in that regard, but even at his best he’s a few steps below Chandler. He’ll battle opponents in the post, do his best do hedge screens, and generally make the right rotations, but Haywood consistently lags behind Chandler in terms of overall defensive efficacy.

It’s the depth at center that could give Dallas more significant problems, though. As is usually the case, Chandler’s one-time backup is ready to step in and produce. But what of the players behind him? Ian Mahinmi may be the most talented fouler in the NBA. Nowitzki and Odom would give Dallas a virtually unmatchable offensive alignment if they played center, but don’t have the same rotational value as Chandler or Haywood. Wright is athletic, but is undeniably a work in progress. Yet that group will have some huge responsibilities when Haywood is resting or plagued with foul trouble, and it’s hard to imagine them living up to last season’s benchmark.

The never-ending quest for improvement

Even though the Mavs will enter the 2011-2012 season having accomplished their greatest goal the year prior, they still face the same pressure that falls on every defending champ: the burden of being even better. Dallas can’t just be as good as they were last season; in order to counter all the moves that have been made, the development of young players around the league, and the more nuanced understanding opposing coaches now have of how to use their respective rosters, the Mavs will need to find some legitimate means toward actual improvement.

And looking up and down this roster, it’s hard to find compelling reason why Dallas would actually be a better team this season. Chandler’s departure obviously hurts quite a bit, as do the losses of Caron Butler and J.J. Barea. But above all, it was Dallas’ decision to value financial flexibility over all else that’s put them in their current position.

The Mavs have done an incredible job of upgrading their roster under these circumstances; the additions of Lamar Odom, Vince Carter, Delonte West, and the aforementioned Brandan Wright are downright gaudy considering their minimal financial costs. But how does the shift in personnel impact Dallas’ ability to field competitive lineups? They’ve bolstered their depth virtually across the board, but what have they given up at center in order to make that possible?

I think at best, you’re looking for a Mavs team that would essentially be a wash in terms of overall quality, as they compensate for some defensive slippage with offensive gain. Yet it’s hard to see — even in that best-case scenario — how the defending champs would meet their burden for improvement beyond their performance last season. Dallas’ moves to date have done well to mitigate some of the team’s free agent losses, but aren’t quite robust enough to completely erase them.

If you keep rolling the dice…

On the Mavs’ Media Day, new Maverick Vince Carter may have summed up Dallas’ playoff run best.

“[The Mavs] just made it happen,” Carter said. “It takes a lot of luck and opportunity, and they seized the moment. Could people honestly say they were going to win it at the beginning of the year? No, not really. Not even in the middle of the year. When you put a team like this together that’s committed and when you get a bunch of veteran guys, anything could happen.”

With a team like the one the Mavs had last season, anything could happen. Dallas put itself in a position to succeed time and time again, and rolled the dice. On the ropes against the Portland Trailblazers? Rolled a six. Comeback victory against the Lakers on the road thanks to a favorable call? Rolled a six. Need a knockout punch in Game 4 against the defending champs? Six. A complete blitzkrieg en route to an impossible comeback against Oklahoma City? Another one.

You get the idea, because we all witnessed it: Dallas got every single break they needed in every single series of last year’s postseason, and while that made their championship run one for the ages, it also makes it incredibly difficult to replicate. Dallas is a very good team, but thanks to surges and breaks and explosions at the best possible times, they — if only temporarily — became a truly amazing one. You, I, and the history books will never forget it.

As Carter says, anything could happen. But it’d be silly to expect the same result, even after the Mavs again put themselves in a position to roll the dice with quality regular season performance.

Amnesty players may not help high payroll teams much

Brandon Roy

Here was the scenario: Teams would use the new amnesty clause in the labor deal to wipe out the oversized contracts of guys who could still contribute some (just not at the level they are getting paid). As a hypothetical example, we will make up a player named B. Roy who plays in the Pacific Northwest.

When he was cut free (and still getting paid) this B. Roy would then jump to a loaded team that needs a guard — the Lakers, the Heat — and play on a minimum deal to help them get a title. He would chase a ring.

Except, it’s not going to shake out that way — teams under the salary cap will get a chance to bid on said player first. From Cowbell Kingdom, who seemed to notice this first (via SBN):

A modified waiver process will be utilized for players waived pursuant to the Amnesty rule, under which teams with Room under the Cap can submit competing offers to assume some but not all of the player’s remaining contract. If a player’s contract is claimed in this manner, the remaining portion of the player’s salary will continue to be paid by the team that waived him.

So let’s got back to our hypothetical. When B. Roy is waived as an amnesty player, teams under the salary cap — say, the Pacers — can submit bids to take over part of his salary and whichever team has the highest bid will get his services. (Roy will still get all his money, his former team has to pick up the difference.) Only if a player is not bid by teams under the cap does he become a free agent who can go play somewhere else for the minimum.

What that means is that if a guy really can contribute teams with lower payrolls get the first shot at getting him cheaply. The Heat are going to have to find another way to better role players around their big three than just picking up the amnesty clause scraps.

Memphis to sit Zach Randolph, Tony Allen against Portland

Memphis Grizzlies v Sacramento Kings
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Well, didn’t see this coming.

Memphis is sitting Zach Randolph and Tony Allen in a key seedings game against Portland Tuesday night, according to a tweet from the Commercial Appeal.

Why? Well they will say its to rest guys but if you like conspiracies you might say they are aiming — you could say tanking — for the eighth seed and a first-round date with San Antonio rather than risk getting the seven seed and the Lakers.

Follow the logic here. If Portland beats Memphis (much more likely with Randolph and Allen playing) then the Blazers are locked in to the six seed in the West. Memphis would fall into a tie with New Orleans with the Hornets having the tiebreaker — so Memphis is the seven seed, the Grizzlies the eight seed.

New Orleans faces Dallas on Wednesday, and following the above scenario if the Hornets won they would be the seven seed. If the Hornets were to lose to the Mavericks Wednesday, well, Memphis is playing the late game in Los Angeles against the Clippers and would learn the results of that game at halftime. So who knows who would play for Memphis in the second half against the Clippers.

If Memphis beat Portland but lost to a pretty good and hungry Clippers team, they would be the seventh seed. Meaning likely the Lakers.

Of course, that means all the actors have to play their parts (like the Lakers winning out to get the two seed). But Memphis seems to be going after a first round matchup with the Spurs.