It’s time again for this week’s Roses and Rain! This is where I’ll write about three things going well for the Blazers (Roses) and three things that aren’t going so well or need improvement (Rain).
Rose #1: Still In Decent Shape
Losing 3 of the last 4 games has certainly been disappointing, but they’re still okay given both the injuries and the tough November schedule. Although expectations changed after the hot start, I think most people would take this record after 16 games prior to the start of the season. That shouldn’t be an excuse for losing games and poor play, but later in the season they’ll have a much better chance to bank wins. The Blazers still find themselves up near the top of the standings. The Western Conference is very competitive though, so a continued bad stretch could see Portland fall down the standings rather quickly. They just need to find a way to grind out a few wins to close out the month.
Rain #1: A Rough Home Stand
After a brilliant 4-2 road trip, the Blazers returned home for a brief 3 games before heading back on the road again. Throughout most of the 3 home games, they failed to play the style of play that led to early season success. A lack of effort for long stretches of each game led to all 3 games being much more difficult than they probably should’ve been. Portland was able to pull out the game against San Antonio, but lost to both Brooklyn and Utah. They did show some fight at times to get back in the game in both losses, but hopefully it’s a valuable lesson learned that they can’t let up with the high intensity play and expect to still win. Playing better at the Moda Center is something they’ll have to figure out.
Rose #2: Nassir Little Quietly Playing Well
Over his last 10 games, Little is shooting 51.1% from the field, 47.6% from three, and 90.9% from the free throw line. Other than the free throw shooting, those numbers are right in line with his seasonal averages as well. At some point, you have to wonder why Little isn’t seeing the floor more than 14.7 minutes per game. He hasn’t been as good on the defensive end as was hoped heading into the season, but other players have made similar mistakes on that end and aren’t getting their minutes cut. Little has his best chance to prove himself and earn minutes over the next couple weeks which will likely be without Gary Payton II and Damian Lillard.
Rain #2: Damian Lillard Out Again
Yet another grade 1 calf strain for Lillard. It’s in a different area of his calf than his last one was, but this strain has the same timeline for his reevaluation period of 1-2 weeks. Don’t be surprised if the Blazers err on the side of caution and sit him out longer than he sat out with the previous one. Lillard sat for 12 days and missed 4 games before returning. If he is out for the same time frame with this one, he’d end up missing 6 games. Portland will likely opt to not play him on 2nd nights of back-to-back games for a while, even if he seems fully healthy upon his return. The team stepped up with Lillard out last time, but the upcoming tough slate of games will be a significant test to stay afloat in the standings.
Rose #3: More Shaedon Sharpe Minutes
Last time Lillard was out, Sharpe started 4 straight games. It’s not known yet whether coach Chauncey Billups will start him or someone else this time, but it’s pretty clear Sharpe will be in line for more playing time. In his 4 starts, he played about 27 minutes on average. Sharpe still makes expected rookie mistakes, but he also has shown an ability to score in bunches. The Blazers need him to continue to have an impact without Lillard once again. How he performs during this stretch will likely be a key reason to whether or not the Blazers can win games without their leader.
Rain #3: Late Game Situational Defense
A lineup decision against the Nets and a scheme decision against the Jazz by Chauncey Billups likely cost the team a chance to win both games. The Nets called a timeout with the ball and the game tied with 6.5 seconds left. Billups kept both Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons in the game instead of electing to go with a more switchable defensive lineup. That questionable decision directly led to Brooklyn’s Royce O’Neale beating both guards to a rebound off a miss by Kevin Durant and the game winning tip-in. The play was very well defended by Jerami Grant, forcing Durant into a tough jump shot that rimmed off. Having someone like Sharpe or Little in the game might’ve led to the Blazers forcing overtime instead. In the loss to Utah, Portland decided to automatically switch screens on defense in the final few minutes. The problem with that was the Blazers didn’t have a very switchable lineup in the game. The Jazz hunted mismatches and the Blazers failed to get a stop on 4 straight possessions after switching. Billups needs to decide whether to go smaller and more switchable if they are going to do that or elect not to switch if he’s going to keep a big man in the game.
I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving!