What the Blazers do well:
Creating turnovers/preventing them:
I know I always stress about turnovers and their importance. And my constant diatribe probably is a little excessive by now. But when a basketball team knows the inherent value of every possession that (usually) leads to success. Among the top 10 teams in turnover differential, eight are currently in the playoffs and that is no sheer coincidence. Dean Oliver’s “Four Factors of Basketball success” explains that other than shooting percentage, turnovers are the next important factor (25 percent) in determining a winner or loser.
The Portland Trail Blazers are one of those teams that creates transition opportunities on the defensive end while not squandering any possessions of their own. These types of teams are tough to beat without solid execution on both sides of the ball because they won’t beat themselves. And the Spurs can’t expect any easy points. The Spurs don’t create turnovers with the same proficiency as Portland so this will certainly be an interesting dynamic to focus on during the game.
Defending the rim and three-point line:
To put it simply, the Blazers are a technically sound defensive team that relies on their length to alter any shot. Opposing teams only make 5.4 three’s per game (4th) and do so at an abysmal .461 eFG% (2nd). Interesting thing to note as well: the Blazers do a solid job at forcing teams to decide between taking a contested three-pointer or an inefficient mid-range jumper. Teams only benefit from an assist 82.7 percent of the time (6th) from the three-point line and are constantly debating between the lesser of two evils. To shoot a contested three-pointer or settle for an inefficient 18 footer? That is the question.
What the Blazers do badly:
Sometimes perimeter shooting can be the definitive reason for a win rather than a loss. Yesterday was one of those days. Although I expected the Jazz to dominate the interior, I didn’t quite think it would be to that extent. The Spurs were dominated in the paint (56-30) and couldn’t handle Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. They combined for 36 points, 22 rebounds, six of which were offensive rebounds. The Spurs combated that by draining 10 three’s at a .476 rate essentially wiping away the advantage the Jazz had inside.
Well, the Blazers can’t rely on their perimeter shooting to bail them out of games. They do a nice job setting up wide open looks (90.6 assist percentage) but they are simply not converting. Other than Nicolas Batum (.412 3P%), no other Blazer is shooting three’s at an above-average rate.
Point guard depth:
Raymond Felton is the only legitimate (and I use that term really loosely in this context) point guard on this team. Mull that thought over for a second. Because Portland is deficient in this area, Felton has been pressed into 32.9 minutes per game or about 65 percent of the minutes at point. Felton, who struggles defensively and doesn’t pose an offensive threat other than the occasional three-pointer, is a terrific match up for Tony Parker and one that he should exploit whenever available. Parker is averaging 23.6 points and 8.5 assists during the Spurs 11 game winning streak. As a Spurs fan, I’m salivating profusely at the potential of Parker adding another 30-10 line to his impressive resume.
Anticipating (not necessarily predicting) a loss worked well last night. Let’s see if my pessimism can singlehandedly will the Spurs to a 12 game winning streak. Blazers win in a close one.
(Don’t worry. I’m usually wrong.)