Portland Trail Blazers: Robin Lopez, Thomas Robinson, and the Playoffs

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

The Blazer's Edge Mailbag tackles all your Portland Trail Blazers question including the physical play of Robin Lopez, the future viability of Thomas Robinson, and Portland's upcoming playoff run.

Time to explore more Trail Blazers questions from the Mailbag!

Dave,

Hey, I have a crazy question: Why doesn't Robin Lopez get called for fouls? I love how physical he can play without getting whistled, but I don't understand it.

Joshua

It's the NBA version of Newton's Third Law.  For every Mark Bryant and Greg Oden, both of whom got whistled every time they blinked, there exists a Robin Lopez.  I don't know why this happens.  It's just an NBA thing.  Having one of those players is not the worst thing in the world either.  Lord knows the Blazers have gone the other way often enough, with Steve Smith and late-career Clyde Drexler among the few examples of players on the good side of the refs.

We need to credit Lopez.  He goes up vertically most of the time.  He times his motions well.  He makes contact in ways and places that the refs don't notice or don't care about.  He's smart as well as physical...a great combination.  The only quibble I have with him is that he's developed an incredulous expression when whistled.  If I were the ref I'd just look at him and laugh.  "Do you know how many fouls we owe you this season?"  But hey, Michael Jordan used to do the same thing.

We also need to credit Portland's coaching staff for keeping Lopez where he'll be most effective.  If he had to chase, move laterally, his foul rate would probably double.  Coach Stotts and company have done a brilliant job maximizing Lopez's contributions.

I suspect the Blazers also have a semi-official policy of Robin not fouling on layups, keeping his foul total low.  His defense runs towards the binary: contest hard if you're there, let it go if you're not.  You see plenty of good plays and plenty of head-scratching easy conversions on that end, but overall the cost is usually worth the benefit.  When Lopez isn't playing  Portland's defense isn't the same.

Dave,

The Blazers has a game against the Warriors in their remaining schedule.  Losing that game may make the Blazers play against the Clippers (3rd) rather than the Rockets (4th) and I'd rather face the Clippers than the Rockets in the playoff.  What is your view on losing on purpose for a (little more) favorable match-up? I'd like to see them beating any team they face, but the reality is some match-ups are favorable then the others, and it is similar to the tanking for the draft. Could you share your thoughts on this?

-Hiro

A coach wouldn't send his team onto the floor with instructions to lose.  That would be demoralizing.  Besides, how do you game plan for that eventuality?  "Run Play 5B guys, but make sure you miss the shot at the end!"   It'd be crazy and confusing.

The more usual method would be resting starters, either by keeping them in street clothes or not playing them much.  For everybody besides Gregg Popovich (who can't help but win no matter who he sends out there) this usually spells a loss.  The Blazers would be justified resting starters after a long, minute-intensive season but I doubt you'll see them do it.  It would mess with momentum.  It's hard to shift from, "Everybody relax!" to, "Now let's play the best you've ever played for the playoffs!"  Starters might play fewer minutes in the last four games of the season but it'll be for fatigue control, not trying to lose.

Personally I'd be opposed to manipulating the standings unless you had already won a title and knew what you were doing.  Even then, I'd only do it to let a superstar recuperate before the post-season, not to align with a particular opponent.  If you want to go deep in the playoffs you have to believe you can beat anyone.  Losing to force a particular matchup amounts to a tacit admission that you're not confident in every situation.  If you don't have swagger against the Rockets, why should you have it against the Clippers?  At that point you're wishing and hoping instead of driving to succeed.  Wishes and hopes are the first casualty of any playoff run.  Successful teams don't say, "if".  They just go out and do it, regardless of the opposition or their intentions.

2nd question.

The Blazers are relatively young and the players don't have much experience in the playoff in general. Maybe Mo Williams is the most experienced one as far as the number of playoff games and minutes played. I remember the Roy-Aldridge-Oden team faced Yao and the Rockets was stunned at the game 1 and lost at home. Granted they had much less experience than the current squad. What do you think this year's team do in the playoff?

Thanks.
-Hiro

Experience played a huge role in that 2009 playoff series versus the Rockets.  Portland came to the floor in three-piece suits, holding briefcases, ready to play an efficient and businesslike game of basketball.   Houston came to the floor with bazookas.  The Rockets had justification; they'd been booted in the first round in 4 of the previous 5 seasons.  The Blazers weren't prepared for the intensity and physicality in Game 1.  They gave a mighty effort but couldn't recover from that loss.

Should the two teams meet, Houston will have an experience advantage over the Blazers this year as well.  I'm not sure it'll matter as much though.  The two teams were pretty evenly matched in 2009, allowing intensity and physicality to make the difference.  Portland and Houston may be close in the standings this year, but Houston has a couple matchup advantages that the Blazers will be hard-pressed to solve.  If they can solve those matchups experience won't matter.  If they can't, inexperience won't be the cause of the series loss.

Beyond that, I don't see Portland's relatively-veteran starting lineup changing their demeanor or style for anyone.  They're established now, hemmed in even.  They do some things well, others poorly, and that's not changing.  Their game isn't dependent on emotion as much as effectiveness.  With 4 rookies and 3 sophomores in the main rotation in 2009, variance was significant, momentum and comfort critical.

It just reminds you that Blazer fans should look back on that 2009 team with wonder and remorse.  They won 54 games with all those youngsters playing critical roles.  Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw, and Joel Przybilla were the supporting players...not exactly murderer's row.  That squad was driven by, centered around, extremely young talent and they still broke the 50-win mark.  Imagine what would have happened with 6 and 7 years of experience.

In any case, whether the Blazers win or lose a series against the Rockets won't depend on experience as much as talent and matchup disparities.

Dave,

There have been so many threads about who Thomas Robinson is, and what kind of player he can develop into. My question to you: In the ultimate post-career assessment of Thomas Robinson, is the following characterization a possibility:

Thomas Robinson 2010s = Robert Horry 1990s.

Can he achieve that level with a lot of hard work?

MonkeysUncle

That's a great question.  I like it.

I suppose it depends what you mean by "that level".  If you're talking statistics, Robinson is already hanging around Horry-like production.  But Horry wasn't defined by his stats.  His heady play and timing made his impact overshadow his numbers.  The distance between the second-year Robinson and the salad years of Big Shot Bob is immeasurable.  I don't think anybody knows whether T-Rob can achieve those heights but watching his court awareness at this point doesn't inspire confidence.  He has learned how to blend in better, however, and that's hopeful.

Check out even more playoff talk in the latest Blazer's Edge Videocast.

Keep the questions rolling by submitting to the e-mail address below.  Please put "Mailbag" in the subject line!

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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