Yes small ball has contributed to the regular season success of the Blazers. And small ball can be effective against other teams. Just want to get that out of the way, because that is a truth. Also true is that the regular season and the post season are two different beasts.
Why? The level of defense. Players like Mo and to a lesser extent D. Wright benefit from lackadaisical defense during the regular season. These guys cannot get their shots against more focused defense. On top of that their defense against larger players hurts the Blazers by allowing too many easy buckets and offensive rebounds.
The Rockets have adjusted by matching larger players on Mo and D Wright in Lin and Terrance Jones. Both have exacted a toll on the Blazers. Lin big boyed Mo all game 5. What you are losing in defense with Mo is not being made up for at the offensive end. Less Mo is simply more shots for Lillard, Batum and Matthews.
The same is true with Wright. Jones has been destroying Wright on the backboards. The offensive rebounds hurt momentum. Now Jones is starting to post easily on Wright. The Blazers need a stronger more athletic player matched up on Jones. The answer for Stotts is to play Thomas Robinson on Terrance Jones. The athletic spark, defense and rebounding T-Rob provides the team is critical to defeating the Rockets.
It is time for Stotts to adjust by going with a larger line-up. Wright should not play another minute at PF for Portland. Mo should not play anything but back up point guard minutes. Reducing minutes for Mo and changing how Wright is being used is key to game 6. Increased minutes for longer and more athletic players will provide much needed defense and rebounding for Portland.
Tip of the hat to the coaching staff. Stotts designs many excellent inbounds plays and plays out of time out. The outside in style with LA at the mid post does create wins in the regular season. They realized the importance of attacking Harden with the post up game of Wes. That was good and the team returns to it sporadically. As the L-Train goes so go the Blazers. LA showed he was the man the first couple of games. Now McHale has shifted Howard to LA and the Blazers coaching staff did not respond well enough to help LA in game 5.
Where the offense has fallen down is in getting LA the ball closer to the rim. LA has a effective mid ranged game that should be used yet a player like Howard has to be attacked. You help LA post closer to the rim by setting a high screen for him to roll to the basket. If Howard goes over the top then the ball can be lobbed to LA. If Howard follows around the screen, LA receives the ball closer to the basket for his post up. Getting LA the ball closer to the basket places Howard in a less effective position defensively. If the Rockets switch then post LA against the smaller player or Asik.
The goal is to draw as many fouls on Howard as possible by having LA attack him on the deep post repeatedly in the 1st quarter and throughout the game. LA will get his shot blocked. LA will also score point blank on top of potentially drawing a fouls, plus scoring and scoring while drawing a foul. These are all great things for the Blazers. When the Rockets are concerned about LA, the shots open up for perimeter players. Without a pick to help LA our best player posting up 10 feet from the basket like we have seen all season and so far in this series.
Howard is a force of nature. He is not the 2 time defensive player of the league by accident. Great shot blockers have to be attacked. The benefit is that even the best will pick up fouls when attacked. We have seen the referees swallow their whistles when Howard fouls. The only way to deal with that is to keep attacking him. We have seen many horrendous calls during this series. The only way to deal with that is to remain aggressive. Howard has to be forced to play defense and hopefully to the bench. That includes the Blazer guards driving the ball into his chest while attacking the rim. If I were a Rockets fan I’d want to see the same thing against LA.
A steady diet of getting LA in position to play a power post game is key to winning game 6. Frankly that is the recipe for Portland having success in the play-offs period. The team can play outside during the regular season yet has to have an inside game to win in the post season. Having a player or two who can play power post is critical to success in the play-offs. Ideally I’d like to see the 1st 10-15 plays for Portland tonight feature LA prominently on the power post with a hand full of opportunities for Wes on the post against Harden. Don’t let the Rockets hide Harden. If he switches onto Lillard or Batum then keep attacking him. Make the star offensive players play defense. Both of Houston’s stars will commit fouls. Keep attacking and force the referees to call them.
Another part of the Blazers potential offense I hope to see more is getting Lopez post up’s. Early in the 4th quarter game 5 Lopez gets a rare post up opportunity and voila 4th foul on Howard. This can and should happen more.
I believe if Stotts can make these adjustments the Blazers will win game 6 and would have won game 5. Furthermore, these adjustments to style of play will provide the best chance for the Blazers to continue to win in the play offs and vie for the championship this year.