Portland Trail Blazers (44-24, No. 4 in the West)
Tuesday, March 24
Moda Center; Portland, OR | "7:30 p.m." PST | Local TV/Radio: TNT; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: | Out for the Warriors: N/A
SBN Affiliate: Golden State of Mind | Timmay's Viewing Guide | Blazer's Edge Night
The Blazers return home tonight on the heels of a 1-4 road trip to host the Golden State Warriors. Forwards LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum along with center Chris Kaman are all doubtful for the contest.
These two teams couldn't be on more varying trajectories -- the Warriors have a league-leading record of 57-13, are riding a six-game winning streak and have won 13 of their last 15 contests following a "rough" 2-2 patch immediately following the All-Star break.
The Blazers, on the other hand, have limped into the final stretch of the season on a four-game losing streak after starting last week's five-game road trip with a convincing victory over the Raptors and subsequently dropping the next four games in Washington, Miami, Orlando and Memphis. Starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews was lost for the season to a ruptured Achilles last month and Aldridge, Batum and Kaman have all dealt with nagging injuries all year, culminating in their shared injury status of "doubtful" for tonight's game following multiple aggravations the last couple games.
Sporting a spotless bill of health -- though center Andrew Bogut's availability is perpetually up in the air this time of year and coach Steve Kerr has the 7-foot, 30-year-old Australian playing a career-low 23.8 minutes per game this season to avoid missed contests -- Golden State has the NBA's best Offensive Rating (109.3) and Defensive Rating (97.7) this year, according to NBA.com.
The Warriors' consistent, efficient and well-rounded attack on both ends of the floor has led to the team not only boasting the league's best Net Rating of +11.7, but as SI.com NBA connoisseur Ben Golliver tweeted recently, Golden State has had an historically good season:
Top 20 point differential teams of the NBA's three-point era pic.twitter.com/p7skfU411H— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) March 23, 2015
All six teams in the top seven on that list (besides the Warriors) went on to win an NBA championship. Golden State has its sights set on bringing home the Larry O'Brien trophy this spring, and justifiably so.
Over the last five outings, Golden State is No. 5 in the league in points per game (109.4), No. 1 in assists per game (28.8), No. 8 in turnover per game (12.6), and No. 6 in field goal percentage (47.8 percent). The Warriors have also made 37 percent of their three-pointers in that span and have gone to the line almost 23 times a game.
Golden State smashed the Wizards at home by 29 last night, just days before dispatching the Jazz by 15 and the Pelicans and Hawks by 16 and nine points, respectively. The Warriors have not only been beating good teams lately, they've done so in convincing fashion.
Their defense has been great, too, thanks in large part to the versatility of the players in Kerr's rotation. He can go big with Bogut in the middle and do-everything big man Draymond Green up front, or he can stick Green at center, Marreese Speights or Harrison Barnes at power forward and go smaller with the All-Star duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in the backcourt. Super-sub Andre Iguodala comes off the bench and can play on the wing alongside any combination of these players, making for a potent, aggressive defense that can comfortably switch on screens without worry of debilitating mismatches.
Thompson, who's only played in two games the last five due to injury, has averaged 17.1 field goal attempts this season, draining 46.3 percent of them. About half his shots come from deep, where he's made 43.5 percent of his tries on the season and 47.4 percent the last couple games he's been healthy. Not known for probing into the paint with the ball before this year, Thompson has done more work off the dribble under the tutelage of Kerr but has settled for more midrange jumpers recently. Thompson only played 18 minutes last night against the Wizards and got up just nine shots, so he may be fresh for tonight's matchup and ready to pick up the slack if Curry needs some extra rest.
Curry, shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from deep this year, has made 38.7 percent of his field goals the last five games and 39.5 percent of his threes to go with over five free throws-drawn a game. He's a dynamic scorer who can take it to the hole and finish, sink in a floater, pull up from the midrange or launch three-pointers from the perimeter. Curry is also an adept and willing passer, able to get his teammates involved when opposing defenses attempt to focus in on him.
Barnes had an off, 2-for-7 night against the Wizards yesterday, but huge outings against the Hawks and Pelicans have maintained his 63.3 percent field goal percentage for the last five games and his three-point shooting mark of 53.8 percent. Green, starting up front for Kerr, has averaged 3.6 assists per game this year -- more than every Blazer besides Batum and point guard Damian Lillard. The versatile big man, who has an outside shot at earning NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors this spring, can step out and hit the three (42.1 percent the last five games) or go to work inside, converting on 58.8 percent of his attempts at the rim the last couple weeks.
Bogut doesn't figure into Golden State's offense much as a scorer, but rather as a bone-rattling screen-setter and a solid facilitator. He doesn't need to score, though, because the Warriors seamlessly plug in contributors off the bench without skipping a beat.
Iguodala has made it a point to attack the rim recently, attempting 40 percent of his shots at the basket the last five games and making 93.8 percent of them. Similarly, reserve guard Leandro Barbosa has opted to take his game inside lately and has made 53.1 percent of his field goals in that span. Point guard Shaun Livingston has been good for 53.6 percent of his attempts the last several outings and has racked up 5.4 assists per game. Guard Justin Holiday, Speights and center Festus Ezeli bring up the rear of the rotation. Power forward David Lee is now used situationally off the bench, playing just 18.7 minutes a game this year.
The Blazers have struggled on both ends of the court recently. Sticking with the trend of referencing Ben Golliver's tweets, let's see how Portland's played without Matthews in the lineup the last few weeks:
POR starters w/ Matthews (629 mins): 107.8 ORtg, 97.1 DRtg, +10.7 Net POR starters w/ Afflalo (181 mins): 105.6 ORtg, 114.6 DRtg, -9 Net— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) March 22, 2015
If you adjust for the last five games -- which takes into account only the Blazers' 1-4 road trip -- Portland comes in with an average Net Rating of -2.7, good for No. 18 in the league, according to NBA.com
(In case you were wondering, the Warriors rock a +17.6 Net Rating in that time. The next closest team is the Spurs with a Net Rating of +11.4).
Blazers coach Terry Stotts, with Kaman already sitting out and Aldridge and Batum banged up in the first half, mostly went with a combination of Lillard, wing Arron Afflalo, forward Dorell Wright, big man Meyers Leonard and center Robin Lopez down the stretch against Memphis on Saturday. Forward/Center Joel Freeland and guard CJ McCollum both played big minutes in the absence of Kaman, Aldridge and Batum, while guards Alonzo Gee and Steve Blake played somewhat sparingly, considering the lack of depth available to Stotts. In that second half, the Blazers played the Grizzlies fairly evenly, getting outscored just 44-42. Somehow reserve wing Allen Crabbe managed to stay glued to the bench in the loss, though that may not be the case tonight.
Lillard's been able to take it inside to score recently and his midrange jumper has been accurate, but his 25 percent clip from deep the last five games has prevented him from being as effective as possible. Considering the holes in Portland's lineup tonight, don't be surprised at all to see Kerr focus heavily down on Lillard tonight when he has the ball. Teams have already been throwing aggressive defensive looks at him this year to plenty of success; Without Aldridge to keep teams honest, Lillard is likely to get harassed all night tonight by the Warriors' defense.
Though Afflalo's made just one of his five three-pointers the last couple games, he was on a hot streak from deep before and has sunk half his long-range tries the last five outings. Still, his midrange game has suffered and only 13.7 percent of his field goal attempts have come at the rim in that time. Afflalo might have to be a little more active tonight looking for his shot, because Lillard could get swarmed.
Wright, Leonard and Lopez will likely start tonight up front for Stotts if his late-game rotations in Memphis were any indication. Wright had 10 points but needed 11 shots to get there. Still, six rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block were solid contributions. Leonard has shot horribly in limited attempts lately, but if he's starting tonight, he'll likely play a much larger role in the offense and when he has the green light to shoot, his confidence seems to increase dramatically.
You might assume Lopez could be penciled-in for huge minutes tonight with Kaman and Aldridge likely out, but the Warriors don't always go with a true center on the court and since they played last night, small-ball lineups may dominate Kerr's rotations in Portland. You may see Stotts dole heavier minutes to Freeland, Leonard and Wright up front to match strategies.
McCollum is likely to be called upon as the spark plug off the bench tonight. He made 5-of-11 shots for 13 points in Memphis and he's made 37.5 percent of his threes the last five games, so his scoring will be needed as the Blazers look to be without their leading producer in Aldridge, best facilitator in Batum and most potent reserve scorer in Kaman. Blake, Freeland and Gee will still likely play complementary roles tonight in Stotts' offense, even with the lack of dependable depth available.
Golden State rebounds well on both sides of the ball. Bogut and Ezeli are best offensively, while Green and Speights do most of their work on the defensive end of the glass. The Blazers will likely miss their two best rebounders in Aldridge and Kaman tonight, but Freeland and Leonard have been pretty solid in limited minutes lately. Lopez, who's seen his contributions on the boards wane a bit the last few weeks, may need to play a more active role rebounding against the Warriors' deep frontline.
On paper, Portland has no shot tonight. But they've also known Aldridge, Kaman and Batum's collective status against Golden State would be up in the air since Saturday, so Stotts has had a few days to work on his rotations and get Leonard and Wright some reps with the starters. Also consider that Kerr has not been shy in limiting his starters' minutes down the stretch of the season and after playing last night, may opt to sit or severely limit the minutes of the injury-prone Bogut and a still-recovering Thompson, which would level the playing field a bit. Expect to see plenty of reserves from both teams tonight, which still puts the Warriors in an advantageous position.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter
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