Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pre-Season Finale Recap in Five Bullets or Less

By Jonathan Ryan Davis
  • The Portland Trail Blazers had a chance to beat the Jazz in Utah despite having no business being in the game (which is a good sign).  Aside from the first quarter, the Blazers looked sloppy throughout the middle part of the game, drawing superfluous fouls, turning the ball over, and missing countless open shots.  Down by 8 points with two minutes left, the Blazers never stopped scrapping on defense, which allowed them to force multiple turnovers and have a shot to take the lead with less than five seconds left.  Unfortunately, LMA missed his patented jumper, though we can give him a pass since he is coming off a heart procedure.  If the Blazers can remain in games when they play this poorly, the Blazers should be in for a successful year.  With a shortened season, so many games in so few days will produce a plethora of slop; if the Blazers can sledge through the slop better an more consistently than their opponents, they could be a tough out this year.
  • Kurt Thomas is a smart defender who knows how to take a charge (4 charges in the first half).  For the second straight game, Thomas has used his high Basketball IQ to maneuver his 87 year old body into the right position in order to draw multiple charges.  Some people are comparing Thomas to Juwan Howard.  Write it down that I am on record as saying, before this season begins, that Kurt Thomas will have a greater impact over the long run on this team than Juwan Howard did, desipte Howard’s heroics when he stepped in to anchor the snake-bit team a couple years ago.  Thomas will solidify the defensive identity the Blazers need in order to play the new up-tempo style of basketball McMillan hopes to implement.  As they say, great defense creates quality offense.  We can already see the Blazers are taking more chances in creating turnovers, which can be risky and result in easy hoops for the opposition; but if players like Thomas rotate and help on the weak side, many of those chances will result in turnovers and fast break points.
  • The Blazers struggled to integrate LMA into the offense.  This was a given.  Aldridge was only cleared for full contact basketball a couple of days ago and he underwent a hear procedure last week.  LMA is human and some rust is natural.  Add in the new role players in the Blazers’ lineup and you end up with a group of rotation players who need some time to gel.  With Aldridge out of the lineup, it was easier for these new Blazers to simply run the floor.  With LMA back, the Blazers know the offense needs to run through him.  That is not to say LMA will prevent the Blazers from playing up-tempo; the opposite is true.  Aldridge runs like a gazelle and should be a centerpiece for the new look offense.  What the Blazers need to figure out is how to balance their up-tempo offense and their half-court offense.  Felton should pilot the up-tempo offense and Aldridge must be the cog in half-court sets.  When the Blazers figure out this balance, they will be a dangerous team.
  • The Blazers need Crawford to shoot well to be successful, whereas Wallace can impact other areas of the game if his shot is not falling.  Crawford and Wallace played roughly the same amount of minutes tonight and both shot equally poorly (1-6 for Wallace and 3-16 for Crawford).  However, Crawford registered a +/- of -11 while Wallace had a +/- of +5.  For the Blazers to contend in the West, which most people don’t believe is possible (including most Blazers fans and writers), Crawford needs to hit his shots more consistently or find other ways to influence the game like Crash.  Wallace knows when his shot is not falling.  As a result, he hustles to snag loose balls, crash the boards, and get in his man’s face on defense.  Crawford is an offensive specialist who has never been known for his defense.  If the Blazers hope to elevate to the next level, they either need to assure that Crawford will hit his shots or mold him into a more all-around player like Wallace, Matthews, and Batum.  The Blazers could be a unique team who can sport entire line-ups that can play both ways effectively.  LMA is on his way.  Felton has some scrap in him.  Crawford needs to absorb this two-faced mentality so we don’t encounter another +/- of -11 during the regular season.
  • Bring on the Regular Season!  Go Blazers!

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