Today Mike Prada of SB Nation took a look at the Portland Trail Blazers' fortunes in the 2014-15 season. He subtitled his overview: Injuries strike Portland at the worst time. Without Wesley Matthews the Blazers made a pedestrian 10-12 stretch run, but it's easy to imagine a team that started the season 30-8 doing better.
Prada thinks Portland is still a threat to beat other teams mainly because of their two all stars:
The Blazers have one of the league's most terrifying weapons: A player that can hit any shot no matter what the defense does. Actually, they have two. You can play amazing defense and still be beat by an Aldridge moonball. You can try to contain Lillard in the pick and roll and still be beat when he pulls up from 26 feet.
Other teams can beat the Blazers by outscoring them. Portland's team defense has fallen far from the halcyon days prior to Matthews' injury:
Only six teams have allowed more points per possession since March 5, and only one (Dallas) also made the playoffs. The new Portland starting lineup with Afflalo in Matthews' place has been particularly bad, allowing 111 points per 100 possessions.
Prada does not pin Portland's defensive woes on Afflalo alone, illustrating Lillard's defensive lapses with a couple of GIFs. He also brings up other defensive issues:
Lopez is an excellent rim protector, but can be exposed in space. Batum is only OK when he should be great. Aldridge carries such a heavy offensive load, so he takes plays off. Portland's bench lacks athleticism now that Afflalo starts, Will Barton is in Denver and Dorell Wright is out for the first round with a hand injury. Matthews was everything you'd want in a perimeter defender and the Blazers are finding they can't replace him by committee.
Nicolas Batum gets a bit more scrutiny from Prada as probably the most important Portland player heading into the playoffs. I'm sure his description of Batum sounds familiar to diehard Trail Blazer fans.
The Blazers' small forward has always been one of the toughest in the league to value. He does so much for Portland, but still leaves one thinking he can do so much more. When he's on, his passing breathes life into the offense, he hits tough perimeter shots and covers for Lillard's defensive issues. When he's off, it's as if he's not even on the court and Portland becomes a predictable two-man team.
Prada finishes his preview with the story of how Robin Lopez came to be a mascot abuser. (Spoiler alert: it has something to do with a very close relative.)
The article is worth a look, if nothing else to get national perspective of Portland's local, and all-too-familiar, issues.