I did a Game Preview last night, apparently I just forgot to post a Game Preview last night. I guess after all these months of doing this I'm assuming everyone will just read my mind. So here's the Preview a little late.
The Gameday Open Thread is just below this. I can't move it to the top because it already has a comment.
Well, since I just did a nifty little preview on the Nuggets a couple of days ago I decided to approach this game a little differently. The one team that I never get to put in the "A Look At..." section is our own Blazers. It has occurred to me that not having them in there has probably led to a greater sense of optimism about the team than is strictly warranted, since that section tends to be a frank appraisal of the opponent while the Blazers are described in terms of "What I'd Like To See"...which sort of implies that the Blazers are capable of living up to those expectations when more than half the time they're not. So we're going to reverse the pattern today. I won't talk so much about individual players, since everybody knows those. Rather we'll look at team trends basically the same way we do with all the other teams.
A Look at the Blazers
The first thing you notice about the Blazers is they like to slow down the game. Their 77.2 field goal attempts per game ranks lower than any team in the league besides Orlando. And they hold opponents to 75.7 attempts per game. Slow and deliberate is the order of the evening. They figure if you can't shoot a lot you can't run away from them and if you can't run away from them they have a chance.
The strategy is necessary in part because the Blazers are also among the worst defensive teams in the league, allowing their opponents to shoot 47.5% from the field. This translates to allowing 97.6 points per game even in slow-down mode. That's not very good. A single team scoring that average would rank almost exactly the middle of the league. Some Blazers are poor defenders, some inexperienced, but the combination is deadly. Even worse, those that are accomplished defenders don't have much scoring punch, leaving the Blazers to choose between offense and defense. If the near-bottom-of-the-barrel 93.3 ppg production is any indication, their answer so far has been "neither". Their 44.7% shooting percentage rescues them slightly, ranking 22nd in the league (which at this point they'll take). Of their big-time shooters only Jarrett Jack shoots a decent percentage for his position. Unless you leave Ime Udoka or Martell Webster wide open the Blazers are little threat from the perimeter.
One area in which the Blazers have improved this year is rebounding. They get comparatively few rebounds but this is a reflection of the low shot attempts in their games. They actually manage one extra offensive rebound than their opponents (pretty good considering how few are available in most NBA games) and they hold even on the defensive boards. This is impressive considering that rebounding was a major issue for them last season. If you let the Blazers, particularly Zach Randolph, get offensive rebounds they will compensate for their low shooting percentage.
Most of Portland's scoring comes off of individual plays. They rank very near the bottom of the league in assists. They tend to hand the ball to their main scorers and let them work isolation sets, dishing to secondary shooters as a last resort. They make very few penetrating passes and even fewer good passes in the interior. They are far better at swinging the ball from side to side than passing vertically.
Portland is nearly allergic to fast break buckets and will often blow otherwise easy opportunities. They have problems remembering to get back in transition defense also. They will not turn the ball over excessively, which is somewhat surprising considering the youth in their backcourt. However they will force far fewer turnovers and this also hampers their scoring. They do not have the hands or speed to poke and run. Nor do they have the brute strength to muscle you out of your offense. Mostly they will try and stay in front of you and hope you miss so they can rebound.
Portland does have a lot of good foul shooters and winning the battle of the free throw line often leads to success for them. Besides that rebounding and keeping you from easy buckets are their keys. Other than Zach Randolph you never know which Blazers will step up in the scoring department. While this means opponents are sometimes in for unpleasant surprises, it also means that most nights Zach doesn't get enough help to keep them in the game.
What's going to happen tonight:
I can't properly call this "Things I'd Like To See" because I'll be talking about the enemy as much as us.
I've scoured the net from the Portland, Denver, and national angles and as of this point (1:20 a.m. Pacific) I cannot find a single piece of information that tells me whether Allen Iverson will be playing tonight. We don't know if the ankle sprain was Sergio-level or of the "stepped on a crack" variety. If Iverson does play I'm going to go not very far out on a limb and say we are done. Denver has lost four in a row, they're at home, and we bludgeoned them into a slow-down gross-fest on Wednesday. They'll be ready not only for our game plan but to end their streak. They'll also be stinging from only scoring 91 when they're capable of 120 without breaking a sweat. Wednesday we came out lethargic and ended up down 12-4. If we come out slow tonight it'll be 20-4. Iverson is too gritty and `Melo too prolific to hold them both down. And with them bent on putting a whoopin' on our butts the dam is just plain going to break.
Even if they don't have Iverson I'm plenty skeptical. I didn't think we could even win one game from them and only the worst teams in the league lose both ends of a home-and-away. That rule is written in stone. They have too much scoring, too much rebounding, too many big guys, too many fans, too much motivation, too much penetration, and just plain too much of everything for us to hold them. Plus we haven't evidenced a ton of backbone lately when really challenged. We'll make polite little runs at it, and if the other team falls asleep we'll happily take the game, but when another team really wants it they can still take the game from us like candy from a baby. With Denver really wanting it tonight if we're not blown out of the gym I will consider it a miracle...and one hell of a coaching job.