The Blazers land in Orlando tonight to take on the Magic in the second game of a back-to-back set that started with a two-point loss yesterday to the Heat.
Orlando has lost nine straight games and 12 of its last 14 dating back to February 23, with both those wins coming against the Sixers, a team that's lost 25 in a row.
Lacking a true No. 1 option on offense, the Magic play pretty inefficiently. Over the last five games, Orlando has averaged 93 points, 16 turnovers, 42.9 percent field-goal shooting, 34.5 percent three-point shooting and only 15.8 made free-throws a night -- all numbers at or near the bottom of the league in that span. The Magic don't really excel at anything offensively, and things have been tough lately as starting point guard Jameer Nelson has missed the last three games with a knee injury and won't be available for Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn tonight.
In Nelson's place, rookie guard Victor Oladipo has moved into the starting lineup at the point, a position that isn't natural for him. While Oladipo has picked up almost seven assists a game in his last five, he's struggled to get his own offense going. Most of his shots come off the dribble, and he often takes it inside where he's a mediocre finisher. Oladipo also utilizes his mid-range jumper and takes almost four three-pointers a game, but he's an average jump-shooter and only hits a third of his outside shots. Oladipo's committed 3.2 turnovers a night this season, but with Nelson out and his shift to point guard, he's turned the ball over 4.6 times per outing.
This may sound like a poor review for the rookie, but keep in mind that Oladipo's currently playing out of position, is usually tasked with guarding the opposing team's biggest perimeter threat, has logged almost 35 minutes a night the last couple weeks and has now probably played in roughly double the amount of games this season than he has in any previous year. Oladipo is not performing at a disappointing level, per se -- he's playing somewhat inefficiently, pretty understandable considering the circumstances.
Guard Arron Afflalo attempts around a dozen shots a game, about a third of them coming from deep where he's been on fire the last five contests, hitting 55.6 percent of his threes. Most of Afflalo's shots come from either outside or in the mid-range, where he's also usually a consistent scorer. In the five games since March 14, though, he's made 40.3 percent of his field-goals, six percentage points below his season average.
Though he comes off the bench, forward Tobias Harris is a high-volume shooter, preferring to take it to the hole or shoot 10-15 footers. His most reliable shot comes in the mid-range on the left side of the hoop, where he makes roughly half his attempts. Harris is also not bad in the paint, hitting about two-thirds of his shots at the rim.
Center Nikola Vucevic has range that extends to about 15 feet out, possessing a solid jumper for a big. He'll take most of his shots in the paint, but he's been good for just under half his attempts the last five games, scoring about 10 points a night, almost four under his season average.
Power forward Kyle O'Quinn starts, but often plays fewer minutes than his fellow starters. Half his shots come inside, the other half from the mid-range. O'Quinn is good for about 50 percent shooting and 8.4 points a game in his last five. Forward Maurice Harkless plays about 30 minutes a night, but only shoots about a half-dozen times, most of his offense coming inside.
Vaughn's usual bench rotation consists of guards E'Twaun Moore, Ronnie Price and Doron Lamb, forward Andrew Nicholson and center Dewayne Dedmon. Moore and Price have struggled from the field the last several games, while Nicholson's hit about half his field-goals attempts recently. Lamb and Dedmon don't play much of a role in Orlando's offense but both are reliable when called upon.
The Magic do a fairly good job of defending opposing teams within the arc and don't give up a ton of points in the paint. They don't allow particularly easy ball movement, though they defend the three-point line pretty poorly, allowing 40.7 percent from deep for opponents the last five games.
The Blazers, meanwhile, sit near the bottom of the NBA with 42.9 percent field-goal shooting and 34.5 percent three-point shooting their last five games. On the brighter side of things for Portland's offense, in that same span it's passed the ball pretty well, gotten to the foul line often and not committed too many turnovers. If the Blazers could hit more of their open looks, they could just as easily be 5-1 their last six games instead of 3-3 -- two losses over that course of time came to the Warriors and Heat by a combined three points.
Point guard Damian Lillard went a dismal 3-15 from the floor last night in the Miami loss, including a 1-8 performance from deep. Over his last five games, he's made only about a third of his field-goals and a quarter of his threes, tough numbers from a guy taking 19 shots a night, eight of them from deep. Lillard's picking up over six assists a game and limiting his turnovers, and has willed his way to the foul line lately even when his shot's not falling, illustrated by his 12 free-throws on 14 attempts last night.
Guard Wesley Matthews has been getting a lot of extra shots up in Portland coach Terry Stotts' offense with forward LaMarcus Aldridge out since March 12. He's had some great nights scoring the ball and some poor nights, going 44.3 percent from the floor and 37.8 percent from deep the last five games. Matthews struggled against the Heat last night, missing eight of 11 three-pointers and not drawing a single foul shot.
Small forward Nicolas Batum has made half his shots and about 47 percent of his threes the last couple weeks, but he's been passive in the Blazers' offense the last two games, attempting only 13 total shots. He also picked up five turnovers against the Heat, often making ill-advised, telegraphed passes. As the best shooting perimeter player for Portland the last handful of games, Batum should probably be getting up more attempts, especially with Aldridge on the sidelines and not taking 20 shots a night.
Guard Mo Williams comes off the bench and has scored on about 47 percent of his shots and 44 percent of his threes the last five games. In the same span, starting power forward Dorell Wright has gone cold from deep, hitting just 30.8 percent of his three-pointers. His outside shooting is important to the Blazers' success right now, especially because he's playing the stretch-four position and can create huge mismatches for opposing bigs when he's connecting on his long-range tries. Center Robin Lopez has attempted eight shots a night the last handful of games, making 55 percent of them.
Stotts' reserves, besides Williams, have been less than remarkable lately. Forward Thomas Robinson has been decent, averaging seven points a game on 48.3 percent shooting. Forwards Will Barton and Victor Claver, guard C.J. McCollum and center Meyers Leonard have shot 37.5, 37.5, 33.3 and 11.1 percent, respectively, from the field the last five games. With Aldridge out, Stotts is forced to dip deeper and more often into his bench. If the end of the rotation keeps shooting the way it has lately, the starters and Williams will continue having to carry virtually the entire scoring load for the team -- a problem that has proven difficult to overcome down the stretch as the season wears on and the starters' legs get tired.
Portland's defense performed better against the Heat last night than it typically has the last couple weeks, giving up 93 points on 44 percent shooting from the field and 33 percent shooting from deep. One glaring issue is the over-reliance on Lopez to correct defensive mistakes by his teammates. While he's a good post defender and guards the rim well, Lopez is consistently brought out of position to help defend opposing players who've gotten by their man. He stands a good chance of legitimately contesting and altering shots when he can stay back and protect the paint, but the more he's forced to be mobile on defense, the less effective Lopez is.
Vucevic, Harris and O'Quinn are all great rebounders for the Magic, though as an overall unit they are terrible on the offensive end. Orlando is a top-10 defensive rebounding team in both percentage and totals, however, so Lopez and Robinson will have to continue the offensive rebounding aggressiveness they've displayed all season. Though Wright struggled on the boards against the Heat last night, he's been pretty good lately otherwise and Batum continues to lead the team in rebounding, pulling down 10.6 boards a game his last five. In that time, Portland's been beaten on the glass by about four rebounds a game, while the Magic have slightly out-rebounded opponents.
The Blazers should come out tonight and force Oladipo to make decisions with the ball, as he's struggled with turnovers since taking over lead point guard duties this last week. Portland, on the other hand, needs to continue moving the ball and getting open looks from deep. The Blazers also need to hit those open threes -- something they've failed to do the last couple games.
The Magic lack consistent offensive firepower. If Portland jumps on them early and forces them to play from behind, this game could be a good bounce back after an embarrassing blowout loss in Charlotte Saturday and a tough, down-to-the-wire defeat in Miami last night.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter