Analysis: Chronic Issues Cripple Blazers versus Clippers

Craig Mitchelldyer-US PRESSWIRE

The Blazers play gamely but the holes in lineup and defense doom them against an athletic and experienced Clippers crew.

Timmay's instant recap of this game can be found here.

Long story short, the Blazers went down by 25 to the Clippers then battled their way back within 6 before fading down the stretch and losing convincingly.

How'd they get down 25? Systemic issues familiar to anyone who's been reading here for more than a minute.

--The Blazers have serious defensive holes at point guard and center and they got butchered tonight. I guarantee somebody in the comment section is going to come up with, "Well, Chris Paul is a Hall-of-Fame point guard and DeAndre Jordan is hot so far this season." Paul and Jordan did not create the defensive issue, they exposed it. Granted, their talent and momentum allowed them to do so more clearly than most, but this isn't about the guys in other uniforms. Damian Lillard had a great first half, scoring 10 points on a variety of moves. Paul had 9 points in the first 5 minutes of the game. Reserve point guard Eric Bledsoe added 6 points in the first 3 minutes of the second period. These guys were scoring however they wanted. And don't even talk about what Jordan was doing to J.J. Hickson at the rim and on the glass. These leaks destroyed all attempts at defense for the Blazers. The only relief came when Jordan sat in the second half and the Blazers switched Nicolas Batum to point guard defense. The Clippers still shot 53% for the game.

--The Blazers have no bench players they can trust. The big comeback of the night came when the Clips played their relatively weak defending bench players in the third period and the Blazers kept their starters in. Portland's main guys can destroy an opponent's bench. We've established that. But playing huge minutes in the third left the Blazer starters wasted at the end of the fourth. They could never complete the comeback, instead resorting to short-falling jumpers.

--The Blazers have no inside scoring when they don't rebound well. The Clips outscored them 56-30 in the paint tonight. Portland got only 9 offensive rebounds. Jordan had 6 all by himself.

--Turnovers remain the main source of fast break points and most momentum runs of any kind. During the comeback the Blazers got several. Outside of that turnovers came sporadically. Portland scored only 7 on the break.

--At 7-20 the Blazers' three-point shooting wasn't bad tonight but "not bad" doesn't close the gap on these other issues. The Blazers need ultra-fantastic to have a chance.

--A new bugaboo is peeking its head up intermittently this year: poor-to-mediocre free throw shooting. The Blazers went 19-30 from the charity stripe tonight. It's hard to watch the team close within 6 in an enormous comeback and realize that they've missed half again that many free throws. There's no excuse for this issue. The one thing all these guys can do is shoot. If the Blazers can't generate easy points on the break, can't generate easy points in the lane, and then give up their chance at easy points from the foul line, they're done. Those are literally the only easy points left to them.

Some will argue that the analysis should be more charitable on a night that featured a big run. I do have some praise in the individual performance section. I also love that this team doesn't give up even when down that big. It was fun to hear the Rose Garden rocking even during a loss. But the reality is that the conditions that led to the huge deficit in the first place are perpetual and repeatable while the comeback, as glorious as it seemed, was sleight of hand. The positive of heart and starting-lineup talent is as real as the negatives we've mentioned but the negatives weigh more and will continue to do so over the course of the season.

Individual Notes

LaMarcus Aldridge did a number on Blake Griffin defensively. The Kia-jumping All-Star went 3-9 for 7 points. You do have to account Griffin's 10 rebounds as a positive, as Aldridge managed only 4...a rare return to last year's form. He had to chase Griffin though. Aldridge shot 7-17 for 14 points, well below his standard. He stayed on the outside mostly and his jump shot form alternated between pure and "What the heck was that?" He did have 5 assists.

Nicolas Batum kind of hung around in the first half but he was amazing in the second. The trigger for him appeared to be getting the defensive assignment against Paul. All of a sudden his hands and feet were busy. He was denying the ball, poking away turnovers and running out...it was classic Saint Nic giving the Blazers play after exciting play and leaving coal in the stockings of the opponent. He shot only 6-18 for the game, 3-10 from distance but those numbers don't encapsulate his contribution tonight. And hey, he racked up a team-high 23 points anyway due to 12 free throw attempts, of which he hit 8. Add in 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and a block and this was quite a night overall.

Damian Lillard had a really nice start to this game offensively. He added a half-dozen second-half points to his 10-spot in the first half, finishing with 16 on 6-13 shooting. We mentioned his defense above so we won't rehash it here. A couple other critiques: When his jumper stops falling the lines on his form get slightly off. It's subtle, but you can tell a good vs. bad attempt for him on release. It seems like the slight physical difference (a little footwork, squaring up, sometimes extension on release) has to do with confidence. The guy can shoot. There shouldn't be any shame in his shot even if he's missed a half dozen. Also, though his passing is quite good he's committing the rookie mistake of committing to passes before he makes them. Sometimes he leaves his feet before he's ready to pass. Other times he drives into the defense and leaves himself no out but the pass. Opponents are starting to pick up that if he's moving toward the rim he's looking to dish, usually passing backwards (another habit). This is making his passes easier to cover. He had 4 assists tonight and L.A. looked like they had a pretty good idea where the ball was going when it left his hands.

Wesley Matthews had one of those nights where he had a couple good plays but a fairly poor outing overall. He got some nice catch-and-shoot opportunities and even a couple nice finishes at the hoop early but when the game was on the line in the second half he seemed to want to work off the dribble for his shot...always a bad idea. His was also off and on, though he was hardly the worst offender in that department. He finished 4-12, 1-4 from distance, for 10 points, 4 assists, and 3 steals.

J.J. Hickson only played 23 minutes tonight. He couldn't keep up with Jordan, which wasn't his fault. This game won't go down on his resume but then again he won't be applying for this kind of job. He had 5 rebounds, 5 points, and one bright, shining block to make up for Jordan abusing him on the boards and in the lane all night.

Meyers Leonard was the only bench player worth noting. He helped bridge the center gap. He may be raw, but he is an actual center, after all. He ran the floor with alacrity, setting himself up for multiple slams off of passes...as aggressive as we've seen him running and cutting to the hoop. He grabbed 6 rebounds to go with 8 points in 24 minutes.

Ronnie Price was the only other reserve with more than 5 minutes of court time, playing 15. He did well with his own offensive opportunities but the team offense stalled under him. The Blazers resorted to iso plays...a good idea in the case of Aldridge alone. Price didn't do much to help the point guard defense problem either, somewhat of a disappointment.

Nolan Smith has gone to the headband. It's a good move. He needs to shake things up somehow.

Jamal Crawford scored a game-high 25 points on 9-17 shooting, sticking it to his old team and disgruntled fans in his first return to the Rose Garden. Good job, Jamal. Sadly, we're not going to remember this as much as we remember the 5-point, 2-17 shooting you regularly put up in the fourth quarter of many of last year's games. Sorry.

TNT did get to this game on time. We saw it in its entirety. As promised in the preview, I'm pointing that out to praise them. Well done. Also Steve Kerr did some nice analysis during this game. I was impressed and liked his style. Marv Albert presented a toned-down version of himself and fit well with Kerr. That's three points for TNT in one night! (a.k.a. "The Babbitt")

The boxscore for this game.

ClipsNation gives you the L.A. view.

Don't miss the Sabonis Celluloid Festival in Portland this week.

Portland Trail Blazer tickets for all upcoming games are available from Blazer's Edge sponsor TiqIQ.

Saturday's matchup features a much more experienced but also much slower opponent in the San Antonio Spurs. LaMarcus Aldridge has liked playing against Tim Duncan in recent years and Damian Lillard versus Tony Parker could be intriguing. If you didn't like this result, tune in then. It's likely to be a different game.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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