NOTE: If you are one of those people that thinks it is bad luck to talk about the playoffs before we clinch, you should go read another post.
I admit it. I'm already waist deep into examining how we match up with other potential playoff opponents. I thought about starting a series on how we'd match up with each of them, but a more interesting thread emerged: we have a number of weapons other teams will not be prepared for come playoff time. I've come up with a few of my own, and wanted to get your take on what things will surprise our playoff opponents.
These are in no particular order since they would be of more/less benefit depending on the opponent:
We've only employed the Gregzilla lineup once this year (that I'm aware of) against the Celtics at home. It worked well against that team because they employed a decidedly interior front court when Garnett was on the bench. I think this lineup can be really interesting against a team like Houston or San Antonio when you've got guys like Oberto/Duncan and Scola/Yao. I think it could actually turn the series against Houston if we used it. We've also never seen this lineup with the improved play of both Oden and Pryzbilla.
This one is so secret, the Blazers don't even know what it could mean. The most likely scenario is he is a non-factor. The most exciting scenario has Martell fresh and firing and allowing us to toy with him and/or Batum at the off-guard spot with Brandon at point. I would be interested in seeing a Blake, Rudy, Martell, Outlaw, Joel/Oden lineup. Who do you leave on the perimeter? I'm not saying it doesn't present some matchup/rebounding issues for us, but Outlaw already does play the 4 on numerous occasions.
3. Aldridge driving to the hole/being more decisive before double teams arrive
People may pick up on this a bit in scouting the last 10 games or so before the playoffs, but most players won't believe a player has really changed until they see it for themselves. Did you notice how shocked Boozer looked when Aldridge took the pass and immediately drove to the hole last night? I'm not sure Utah ever adjusted to this substantial shift in LMA's game. This will continue to lead to more free throws and foul trouble for the opponents big men. Watching LMA pump the ball 10 times waiting for a double team to arrive before making his decision has been painful, but I think the game is slowing down for him now which makes the pain well worthwhile.
4. A Legit Fast break
Does anyone else believe the fast breaks we're seeing at home are going to make their first appearance outside the RG on this road trip? The team flirted with pushing tempo this season early on, but we've seen it much more consistently the last few games. Don't look now, but we've averaged over a 100 points/game since February (101.1 in March). Easy buckets in playoffs games are critical and rare. The next secret should help.
5. "Don't ___ with me" Interior Defense
Our blocked shots have gone from 3.9 in January, to 4.2 in February, to 5.4(!!) in March. Orlando, with the top shot blocker in the league in Howard, average 5.3 blocks per game for the season. [Tangent: Is anyone else shocked that Golden State leads the league in blocked shots by a wide margin at 6.4?] I've noticed these from Oden and Aldridge seeming to block more, but it turns out Pryzbilla is the real story here. I was shocked to see he was averaging 0.29 blocks in January and less shocked to see he was up to 1.75 in March. Perhaps another reason to keep in the starting lineup. Which leads us to...
6. Oden off the bench
Only a handful of teams have had to gameplan against us with Oden on the bench. Nobody has done a great job of handling it so far. Coaches seem genuinely pained at the thought of bringing in their backup big man to play a guy like Oden. More than a few teams don't really have backup centers, which leaves Oden against much smaller players. It's much closer to college again for him. Other teams also seemed to get a real psychological advantage from getting him into foul trouble in the first five minutes of a game. Can't do that if he's not starting.
7. Outlaw bringing it nightly
Travis has struggled with his shot since he dislocated that pinky in his shooting hand, but he showed signs yesterday of regaining some confidence. He has been a major part of our strong play in March. His rebounding is up, his blocks are up, his steals are up, and perhaps most importantly, his FT % is up (86% for March). He is the most unguardable player on the Blazers when he is on. Yes, even more than Brandon. If we get 15 pts/game from him, we're much less reliant on Rudy being on.
8. Our wingspan lineup
Nate has quietly played with Aldridge at center, Outlaw at PF, Batum SF, Rudy SG, Roy PG. That's a lot of hands in the passing lanes. It's a weapon that must be wielded expertly to be effective, but it can really create havoc for teams that rely heavily on cutting and passing over inside/outside stuff.
What do you think? Which one excites you the most? What have I missed?