Blazers.com's Casey Holdahl is reporting from Philadelphia that Nate McMillan is shaking up his starting five, opting to insert Wesley Matthews for Nicolas Batum at small forward against the 76ers.
Let me start by being captain obvious: something needed to change. After three straight losses, and given the lack of effort displayed during the last two, it's no surprise that both the players (by calling a post-game meeting) and the coaching staff (by reexamining the lineup and rotation) are going back to the drawing board.
Even more obvious: there was only one starting spot where change is reasonable. Given Portland's starting five and its healthy bench players, only the small forward position can be flopped without a significant drop off. Andre Miller, LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby aren't going anywhere. Brandon Roy, looking healthier in the past two games than he has in a while, is firmly entrenched, knee permitting.
Matthews has played inconsistently this season, but he has professed a preference for playing time consistency and he produced in greater volume when he started in Roy's absence. Matthews averaged 22 points and 5 rebounds in 38 minutes per game during his three starts, compared to 10 points and 2 rebounds in 22 minutes in his 13 non-starts. Not enough of a sample to be definitive, but enough to justify a trial run.
Batum has also been inconsistent, and he's especially struggled in the last two games. However, it's important not to overlook the fact that he ran off nine straight double digit scoring games prior to the last two losses. The issue for Batum has been an over-reliance on the three-pointer, which is, in part, a systemic by-product of playing alongside Roy for heavy minutes. Batum leads the Blazers in three-point attempts, tied for No. 27 in the league, ahead of Rudy Fernandez (No. 41) and Wesley Matthews (No. 45). All that chucking has led to some standing and floating, and the Blazers rely on Batum as a constant source of energy, especially given his relative youth (age, health and miles) compared to the rest of the starters. It hasn't been there the past few nights.
Defensively, both Matthews and Batum have displayed nice versatility this year, but Batum's height and length are a better match next to Roy and Miller, and a Miller/Roy/Matthews perimeter trio leaves the Blazers playing quasi-small ball. For that reason, this is likely a short-term switch. If Batum winds up flourishing offensively with more touches, freedom and responsibility in the second unit, it's possible that the move could become more than a simple wakeup call for a young player and a change for change's sake move, which is what it feels like now.
Update (4:30): Joe Freeman has both Matthews and Batum saying all the right things about the move.
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