When Groundhog Day was released in 1993 there was a sentiment the film would age well, perhaps hold a decade’s worth of pop-culture relevancy. We cite the film whenever we feel as if we are reliving the same situation over and over and… you get the point.
An achievable way to break the cycle of monotony is to zig instead of zag. Doing something, wait scratch that, ANYTHING different to get a different outcome.
The Portland Trail Blazers would be the stars of Groundhog Day if ever adapted into a basketball universe. Perpetually running it back with the same core of players, only to suffer defeat in, at most, five games come playoff time has Portland pencilled in for another early exit.
Same old Blazers
Old habits die hard in the Rose City. Portland have an abysmal 29th ranked defence and give up 116 points per 100 possessions. Only the Sacramento Kings have a worse defensive rating.
You can theorise however you want about why Portland is so bad defensively. They are an absolute elite offensive rebounding team, much of this is a testament to Enes Kanter’s (4.1 offensive rebounds per game) ability to crash the offensive board and keep possessions alive. Defensive rebounds are a major problem. In a conference where elite big men reside such as Gobert, Jokic, and Davis, being the 24th ranked defensive rebounding team is going to continue to rear its ugly head come playoff time.
The Blazers’ most recent game featured a three-guard line up of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Norman Powell. Alongside Robert Covington (who hasn’t been as good as advertised defensively) and Jusuf Nurkic in the 113-120 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Blazers were outrebounded (albeit marginally) and allowed the Grizzlies to score 50 points in the paint alone. For head coach Terry Stotts to persist with this line-up in the playoffs will be an admission that his team will try to win games merely by outscoring its opponents, rather than slowing them down.
Dame time running out of battery?
Damian Lillard is having a rough time of things in the month of April. After receiving MVP buzz back in March, his noticeable dip in form can be linked to his most recent hamstring injury. In his absence the Trail Blazers struggled and just about held off the San Antonio Spurs by a single point, before suffering back to back defeats against the Hornets and the Clippers.
Dame’s return has not stopped the bleeding, rather his shooting has grown more erratic. Lillard has not shot over 50% from the field since 4th March – an eighteen point loss to Milwaukee. He is going to the line less often (sans the first Memphis defeat on 23rd March) and instead settling for jump shots.
In the last three games, Dame has attempted 23, 22, and 27 shots and failed to shoot 40% from the field in any of those games.
Portland need Dame to get out of his funk and rediscover his form earlier in the season where he had the Blazers among the top six seeds in the Western Conference while McCollum and Nurkic were on the treatment table.
His performances in the clutch showed why he belongs in the group of premier players in the league. Now more than ever is when Dame time needs to deliver.
Pressure on Stotts
Portland find themselves in the seventh seed, one game back of the Dallas Mavericks. While the Mavs have been a .500 team over the last ten games, Portland are 2-8 and their bad form has put them in the play-in tournament.
Expand that to the month of April and Portland (3-10) find themselves surrounded by the Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic, and the Kings. The likes of Utah, Phoenix, Lakers, and Clippers will be very confident if matched up against Portland.
The Blazers do not utilise the ball well enough to pose a credible threat in the postseason. They rank dead last in assist percentage at 51% and second to last in total possessions.
The ‘your turn my turn’ offense is something Terry Stotts has failed to address all season, and to his fortune, has been bailed out by Lillard’s exploits in late game situations. This will not cut it in the playoffs. We saw it last season in the first round of the playoffs when the Lakers swarmed Lillard. Forcing the ball out of Dame’s hands and expecting another Blazer to make a play is something Portland are likely to contend with again this season.
The time for Stotts to implement more ball movement might be too late. Not just for this season, but for his time as head coach for the Portland Trail Blazers.