It doesn't take Robert Langdon to decipher why the Blazers will likely miss the playoffs this year: we have struggled mightily on the road. Thankfully, the horrific memories of our early-season losing streak have given way to a (gasp!) road winning streak - albeit only a 2 gamer--thanks to back to back victories this weekend in Milwaukee and the Big Apple. Although it's easy to dismiss these two wins as the byproduct of the Bucks' and Knicks' basement-dwelling status, I thought now would be a prudent time for a comparison of the Blazers' performance at home and on the road. Here's a look at the good, the bad and the ugly, in reverse order, wrapped up with some things to look for if we are to continue enjoying success on the road.
Starting at the top, the team's record at home is a healthy 22-9; the road record is a paltry 11-21. It's not unusual to see a disparity between home record and road record (zero teams in the Northwest Division, for example, currently have a winning record on the road) however the Blazers' gap is large, very large. In fact, of teams in the NBA with 20 home wins we currently have the least number of road wins. This can be somewhat explained by the brutal Western Conference schedule we have already played, as the only tough road games we have left are tomorrow against the Cavaliers, one game against the Lakers and another against the Suns. Regardless, this is not a winning differential for a playoff team.
So, why are we losing so much more on the road that at home? Across just about every statistical category we perform worse on the road than at home. We score 3.4 less points per game (97.7 at home to 94.1 on the road); we shoot slightly worse (45.7% at home to 44.7% on the road); we dish out more than 4 fewer assists (23.2 assists at home to 18.9 assists on the road); we commit slightly more turnovers (12.0 at home to 12.8 on the road); and we commit more personal fouls (19.3 at home to 20.9 on the road).
Obviously, these are all unhealthy indicators for long-term success and spell trouble if and when we make the playoffs. In a seven game series, teams with negative differentials in all of these categories are forced either to a) secure home court advantage and hold serve or b) get lucky and steal a win.
A few things caught my eye. First, we have struggled with rebounding all year, currently ranked fourth worst in the league. However, we seem to rebound only marginally worse on the road than at home (40.7 total at home to 40.2 total on the road). Looking at defensive rebounds we see the same marginal drop (30.2 at home to 29.6 on the road); for offensive rebounds, we actually see improvement on the road (10.5 at home to 10.7 on the road). Despite our overall struggles on the glass, we should read the consistent rebounding on the road as a positive indicator.
Road rebounds often come down to giving the extra effort down the stretch in a hostile environment. For a young team, this can be a difficult task, but it is a task that often leads to victories. Most pundits are in agreement that our league-wide rebounding rankings will dramatically increase with next year's Oden/Aldridge starting frontline and a Przybilla/Frye second line; if our road rebounds increase proportionally to our total rebounds, we will almost assuredly see an uptick in our road record.
Second, for all of our collective complaining about Jack (most often), Sergio (often, but less often) and others, we do a darn good job of protecting the basketball. Currently, we rank 5th overall in turnovers, 4th overall in home turnovers (12 a game), and 5th overall in road turnovers (12.8 a game). Of all the numbers listed above, this is probably the most positive indicator for us in terms of future success. Protecting the ball in road games, particularly road playoff games, is of critical importance.
How many times in big moments have we seen turnovers decide playoff games? Jordan swiping Malone in Utah. Dirk throwing the ball away in Game 6 of the 2006 Finals with less than a minute to play. I'm sure you remember others.
Coaches, players and pundits all agree that winning playoff games comes down to execution: the fact that a team this young has controlled its turnovers so well, both at home and on the road, is great news for next year and beyond. Don't believe me? Take a look at this season's top five teams in turnovers on the road: Pistons, Hornets, Mavericks, Raptors and Spurs. The list includes 2 recent NBA champions, 1 team that's reached the finals, 1 team that is regarded as a title favorite this year (New Orleans) and another that could very well make a deep run in the Eastern Conference (Toronto). That's pretty good company; keep that in mind the next time Jack is running the break and you're pulling your toupee off.
Well, the above comparison of our road stats against our home stats wasn't Georgia O'Keefe pretty. However, a glance at the boxscores from this weekend do offer a blueprint for winning road games. In both games, we were above our road averages in assists (21 in both games)--including the beautiful Brandon to LaMarcus dish on Friday's final play and a very healthy 10 assists from Blake yesterday. Also, in both games, we shot the ball above our road averages (55 percent in Milwaukee, 46 percent in New York).
Generally, when you're moving the ball and hitting a higher percentage of your shots, you are getting easier buckets and operating with a better flow in your offensive sets. If there was one distinguishing feature of our 13 game winning streak, it was exactly that: we limited our turnovers, moved the ball quickly, found the open man, and knocked down the shots.
It was a simple formula and it produced results; here's hoping the recent uptick in assists and field goal percentage on the road continues tomorrow in Cleveland. At this point, we need each and every road win that we can get. Not to mention, I'm kind of enjoying this current "streak."