Two teams that we were pretty hot and heavy over earlier on in the season have been slowly dripping down the Power Rankings after phenomenal starts.
Do Blazers and Warriors fans have something to worry about, or are the ho-hum results over the past ten games simply part of the ebb and flow of an NBA season?
Both teams need to find a way to be consistent over the long haul. Nobody’s a fan of a one-hit wonder, unless it’s Wild, Wild, West by the Escape Club.
LOST: Defense. If found, please return to Moda Center.
It seems like only yesterday I was creaming over the first place Blazers and wondering if they could legitimately challenge the Thunder for the Northwest Division title. Now, after dropping six of their last ten contests, their chances of catching Oklahoma City are just about as good as Edward Snowden scoring a Nike commercial.
Portland is now a full six games back of Kevin Durant and sitting in the 5th seed in the Western Conference.
If you spent all of January playing with the new toys Santa brought you for Christmas, you missed Durant racking up video game type numbers. Over the month he averaged 35.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 6.1 assists. I’m not saying Portland should throw in the towel, but unless #35 catches the Ebola virus, OKC is cruising to their 4th straight division title.
So, aspirations are still high for Terry Stotts’ squad, but the bar has certainly been knocked down a peg or two … or three. They’ll need to forget about scoring home court advantage on through to the Finals and settle for nailing it down for the first round.
The good news is that they’re still the #1 offense in the league, with 107.9 points per game. If they’re able to continue putting the ball into the net, especially from beyond the arc, they’ll be the first Blazers team to lead the NBA in scoring since Kiki Vandeweghe and Clyde Drexler did it in ’86-’87.
What an unsung hero, Clyde the Glide; let’s take a quick time out here to watch him dunk on Michael Jordan:
Yes, I’m old and nostalgic. Get over it. Now let’s get back to 2014 before I bust out Charles Barkley Right Guard deodorant commercials.
So yeah, the Blazers’ shooters love tickling the bottom of the net. But here’s the catch: they’re ranked 27th in defense, allowing 103.7 per game. A point differential of 4.2 is good, but it doesn’t leave much margin for error. To compare, the Pacers enjoy the best point differential at 8.2, and they’re only scoring 98.5 points a night. Long story short here, defense matters, especially in the playoffs.
Better play from their big men.
Here’s another interesting statistic that showcases Portland’s defensive struggles. The team leads the NBA in total rebounds with 46.1 per contest, but they’re 15th in defensive boards.
What’s going on?
Taking a lot of threes and deep jump shots means the ball bounces high and far off the rim on misses. It’s great that their perimeter game has players in position to scoop up these long rebounds and kick it out for a second try, but the huge disparity between offensive and defensive rebounds suggests that they are getting rebounds on offense not because of physical strength in the paint, but because of the scheme that they run.
Otherwise, why would the exact same big men get the ball less on defense? Especially when defensive players ought to be in better position for rebounds down low.
LaMarcus Aldridge leads the NBA in mid-range shots, and he hits a ton of them, but to be an elite team you’ve got to have a legitimate big man threat down low. Plain and simple, they need better play in the post. Currently the Blazers are 29th in the league in scoring in the paint at 36.3 points per game.
How can they get back on track?
There really are two tales to be told when it comes to this Portland team. As a team they score more points than anyone else, but yet they rank dead last in points off the bench. They have the ability to “turn it on” when needed, but have given up some huge comebacks of late.
Most likely opening the season at (24-5) will provide them enough of a cushion to see the playoffs either way. But if they continue to play .500 ball (12-12 since the red hot start) it’s going to be pretty tough to win a series against a higher seeded team.
Coming out of the All-Star break there’s talk of trading for frontcourt help. But a true upgrade down low is going to be costly and could potentially disrupt the chemistry the team enjoys on offense. Then again, half a season isn’t enough time to properly develop the young players they’ve got now.
It could all come down to coaching. Three pointers are sexy, but Stotts needs to motivate his team to be a little more blue collar on defense. Maybe Dennis Rodman can take a break from forking kimchee and shooting H-O-R-S-E with Kim Jong Un and come in as a consultant to teach these guys to play a little “ugly ball”.
Let’s head on down the coast to the Bay and visit the hobbling Golden State Warriors.
Golden State has been streaky this season, going (11-2) over a stretch that included seven games on the road, and then settling back into mediocrity (seven wins over past 15 games). Currently the Warriors are clinging on to the 8th playoff slot in the West, which is disappointing for a team projected to finish around 4th.
Injuries have been an issue.
Iguodala was out with a bum hamstring and has yet to get back to the same form on offense after sparking a win streak upon his return. He had been one of the team’s top playmakers, so the drop in production has been duly noted.
Nagging injuries have also hampered Jermaine O’Neal. After the season he had last year with the Suns, Mark Jackson was hoping for more production from the veteran center.
And we haven’t even talked about Andrew Bogut’s shoulder that he may or may not have “hurt while sleeping”. Whether the big injury was incurred on his Sealy Posturepedic or indeed versus the Utah Jazz is irrelevant; he hasn’t touched the court in February and the team has missed his 8.2 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks.
New owner Joe Lacob, however, is quick to point out that every team has to deal with injuries. But his team is underachieving any way you shake it and he’s not afraid to speak his mind about the new expectations he’s set forth for the franchise. In a recent interview he ripped into Mark Jackson and the coaching staff pretty hard for several home losses where the team came out flat and looked unprepared.
As Stephen Curry goes, so does the Warriors’ offense.
There’s nothing wrong with having a Superstar on your team. In fact, Superstars are essential. But this team is very average when Curry is not on the court and when he has an off night not enough other players are stepping up and kicking it into high gear.
The young playmaker has improved greatly over last season in terms of getting more players involved, averaging 9.0 assists per game, but over an 82 game season success can’t hinge on the performance of a single player. Even if that player is the best shooter President Obama has ever seen.
Curry’s inability to hold on to the ball also sets the tone for sloppy play across the board. He gives the ball away 4.1 times per game, so it’s no surprise that Golden State is 29th in turnovers.
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
Bottom line is that basketball hasn’t been this fun in the Bay Area since Chris Mullin was raining threes and Tim Hardaway was snapping ankles with his Killer Crossover.
But their revived fan base will only remain happy with not sucking for so long. Last year’s late season run and playoff upset over the Nuggets was sweet, but in 2013-14 success is not appreciated, it’s expected, and the pressure to win is definitely affecting the squad.
Poise under pressure comes from three places:
The team is in a position to improve on all fronts, but the question is how quickly will it happen?