The Portland Trail Blazers' No. 1 ranked offense gets contributions from all five players, but the two-man game between Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge serves as a key backbone. Off the dribble, Lillard is a handful as he can step back for a three-pointer or weave into traffic, drawing attention that frees up his shooters. Aldridge, meanwhile, is one of this season's best pick-and-pop players, shooting 44 percent from areas around the top of the key.
Taking a passive approach to defending the Lillard/Aldridge pairing has often resulted in trouble for Portland's opposition, and recently teams have tried to dampen their effectiveness by jumping screens on Lillard to break up Portland's rhythm. Several teams with mobile big men have started to double-team Lillard off the pick-and-roll or meeting him high at the arc this season. Lillard has the most trouble when he is dribbling to his left, and teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers and Miami Heat have all had success in forcing turnovers against the Blazers.
Portland has countered this defensive strategy a few different ways.
First, they will run a 1-5 (point guard/center) pick-and-roll with Robin Lopez. This is a good way to cause match-up inefficiencies against opponents, as players guarding Lopez are less likely to be able to cover Lillard off the bounce. If Portland sees an overly-aggressive team pushing on the pick-and-roll, you are likely to see more plays involving Lopez as a counter.
Lillard can also split or "snake" picks. This can be used against ICE pick defense (when teams try to guide Lillard to the sideline and away from the screener) to force a switch between the post defender and the ball handler.
Below, Lillard snakes his way past an out-of-position Dirk Nowitzki and into open space in the middle of the court.
The last way you'll see Portland try to break this attack is to run hard along the sideline.
As Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins jump stops up to try and contain Lillard on this play, the Blazers guard realizes he has the opportunity to turn the corner. There's no way Perkins has the body control to stop him from that angle. He presses forward, getting himself an open shot on the baseline.
The biggest mistake Lillard makes in these situations is that of indecision. When he attacks the sideline but doesn't continue, or backs up against a double-team, he finds himself trapped. He works best when he tries to turn the corner on picks, or splits them to get into space.
Look for this clever back-and-forth between offense and defense during the next Blazers game you watch.
Video via MySynergySports.com.
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-- Dane Carbaugh | AYoungSabonis.com | @DaneCarbaugh