Each week, Blazers: Roses and Rain will take a look at three things going well for the Portland Trail Blazers and three things that are going poorly or need improvement. Since the last edition the Blazers won games against the Philadelphia 76ers and the Denver Nuggets. They then went to Sacramento and lost to the Kings. Their record currently sits at 10-9.
Rose #1: Home Winning Streak Now Up To 9 Games
The Blazers continue to be dominant at home. Sure, they’re catching some breaks with opposing teams missing key players like Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic, but they’re taking care of business and racking up the wins. Sweeping a 4-game homestand and winning 9 games in a row in your home arena is a good accomplishment no matter what teams they played. After the next two road games against the Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz, the Blazers have 15 of their next 19 games at home. Look for the Blazers to climb up near the top of the Western Conference standings during the month of December if they keep up their play at the Moda Center.
Rain #1: Completely Different Team on the Road
Hopefully someday this won’t be a rain in these articles and I can stop sounding like a broken record, but the Blazers have just been dreadful on the road. Their defense is atrocious. The Sacramento Kings had fired their coach a few days prior, were without starting center Richaun Holmes, and De’Aaron Fox got ejected in the 4th quarter, yet the Blazers still found a way to lose. The Blazers have lost twice to the Kings who only have seven wins on the season. With the next two games for the Blazers being against the 1st place in the Western Conference Golden State Warriors and the 3rd place Utah Jazz, the Blazers better play like they haven’t played all year on the road or this could get ugly.
Rose #2: 3rd in Offensive Rating
After some initial struggles with the offense early in the season, particularly with Damian Lillard’s poor shooting, the Blazers have now kicked it up a notch on offense and find themselves in familiar territory near the top of the league in offensive efficiency. In the game against the Kings, the Blazers scored 71 points in the first half. The ball was moving, which led to 19 assists in that half. Then all of a sudden the ball stopped moving much in the 2nd half and the Blazers only managed to score 50 points that half. It’s painfully obvious that the more players that are involved in the offense via ball movement and off-ball action, the better this offense can be. Their offensive rating should steadily get even better the less they resort to isolations from the guards.
Rain #2: 27th in Defensive Rating
Despite allowing 4.2 points per 100 possessions less than last year’s defense, the Blazers still find themselves near the bottom of the league in defensive rating. The good news is that there are so many teams bunched up in a similar position that a couple of good defensive games could move them back towards the middle of the pack.They’ve also shown flashes of being a solid defensive team. The bad news is that many of the fixable problems continue to show up including getting picked on screens too easily, poor rotations, over helping, and improper technique on closeouts which lead to open threes or getting beat off the dribble by players who shouldn’t be able to penetrate a defense. Head Coach Chauncey Billups has said numerous times that in order to be a good defense they have to scrap and be aggressive. So far, that hasn’t really shown itself, especially on the road where the game plans have been fairly conservative.
Rose #3: Damian Lillard Getting Free Throws Finally
Lillard’s lack of free throw attempts was in the rain category last week, but in the previous 3 games he’s gone to the line 14, 2, and 16 times respectively. He’s only missed one free throw in those games as well. Getting to the free throw line has always been a way for Lillard to be efficient and the more he gets to the line. There’s been visible frustration by Lillard at the non-calls when he appears to get fouled, but if he can find a way to get to the line consistently this team will be better off.
Rain #3: CJ McCollum Not Getting To The Line
Not getting many free throw attempts for how often he has the ball has been a problem for McCollum’s entire career, but even by his low standards this season has been really bad. His free throw attempt rate (Number of free throw attempts per field goal attempt) is a putrid 9.7% and he’s only averaging 1.8 free throw attempts per game. Those marks are by far his lowest since earning the starting shooting guard spot prior to the 2015-16 season. Of players this season that have scored at least 350 points, McCollum is by far last with only 34 free throw attempts. Tyler Herro is 2nd worst in that stat and he has shot 47 free throw attempts. McCollum has to either do something he hasn’t really done before and find a way to get to the line more often, or he has to take less shots and increase his assist percentage instead. When you’re not shooting well in the paint and aren’t drawing fouls either, using your ability to get to certain spots on the floor could be used as a way to get good quality shots for teammates. Maybe Billups can eventually get McCollum to play a little more like that and the team would be much better off for it.