The Trail Blazers hit a rough patch in their season over the weekend, losing road games to the Raptors, Celtics, and Pistons. With only two days left before the NBA’s trade deadline, and the team in a virtual four-way tie for the Nos. 6-9 spots in the Western Conference, many observers are clamoring for a change. Let’s take a look back and see if we can learn anything from the disappointing 0-3 trip:
Schedule Losses Are Still a Thing in the NBA
The NBA famously made a point of designing a more travel-friendly schedule this offseason, doing their best to remove instances of four games in five nights, and prevent schedule quirks that fate teams to losses.
But the schedule’s not perfect and the Blazers ran into a “schedule loss” last night against the Pistons. The game was Portland’s fifth in seven days and eighth consecutive in different cities — they haven’t been at home for consecutive days since Jan. 20. The Blazers struggled to stay in the game after the first quarter and the shot chart paints the picture of a team playing on fumes:
Five-for-25 on above the break 3-pointers?! Youch. Something tells me Damian Lillard, (1-for-5), Al-Farouq Aminu (1-for-5) and their teammates were gassed.
The Blazers also drew the short end of the stick with a 9 am PST tip-off in Boston on Super Bowl Sunday, giving them two consecutive scheduling disadvantages. The schedule does lighten up a bit now; the Blazers returned home last night and won’t leave the Pacific time zone again until after the All-Star break.
Nurkic’s Lightning Fast Post-Up
The Blazers have found some creative ways to use their motion offense to get Nurkic the ball in good position in the middle of the paint this season. Once or twice a game they’ve used him to set a high screen and then he immediately rolls into the paint and establishes position directly in front of the rim. A quick pass will usually lead to a score.
Most players don’t post up this way as it’s begging for a 3-second violation (you can hear the Pistons’ coaches shouting for one in the second video) so the defense can often be caught unprepared or in a mismatch. Stotts has made it a regular part of his playbook and it has worked well.
What the Heck is a “Great” Toe?
Shabazz Napier missed Sunday’s game against the Celtics with “Great Left Toe Soreness.”
Shabazz Napier does not have a big toe, he has a great toe... pic.twitter.com/uyNsbOMKao— Sean Deveney (@SeanDeveney) February 4, 2018
[Side note: I’m not sure if TD Garden appreciates their WiFi passwords being shared on Twitter.]
This led to some comedic tweets about whether the toe or the soreness was “great,” and inaccurately placing “great” before the “left” led to even more confusion. Turns out that “great toe” is just the technical term for a “big toe.” For the curious, “hallux” is the anatomical name of the big/great toe.
Build it and They Will Come ...Or Not
The Pistons play in the brand new Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit after spending 29 years in the suburban Palace of Auburn Hills. Moving the team to Detroit’s center hasn’t exactly helped bring in fans, however, and that was apparent last night:
There were rumblings that the Blake Griffin trade may have even been partially motivated by a desire to bring a star to the Pistons in order to attract fans and justify the cost of the team’s new home.
The arena was originally expected to cost $450 million, but the final bill came in at $863 million. Taxpayers picked up $324 million. Whether or not it helps to revitalize the city’s downtown and justify the public outlay has yet to be seen, but the fact that even the uber-popular Red Wings are struggling to draw fans has raised some eyebrows.
Ignoring most of the politics involved, I will add this idea: Any time the public shells out funds well-into 9-figures for a new arena the voters should get the option to name it. Little Caesars is paying about $6 million annually for the naming rights, which is a pittance compared to what the taxpayers are giving up, (and the same family owns both the pizza chain and the arena). If the arena is truly meant to be a point of civic pride, give the taxpayers the chance to choose a moniker!
Looking Ahead: Tough Schedule?
The 0-3 road trip dropped the Blazers back into a virtual tie for the bottom spots in the Western Conference playoff race. If they want to avoid another playoff series against the Warriors they’ll need to finish the season strong.
Unfortunately, Basketball-Reference recently reported that the Blazers have the third hardest schedule left in the NBA. That prognostication came via their SRS system. Using SRS, here are the expected outcomes for the Blazers’ remaining games (Portland has an SRS of 0.65):
Basketball-Reference’s system predicts a 15-13 record for the Blazers to finish the season, which would result in 44 wins. Here’s how that stacks up against the other teams currently fighting for the 5-8 seeds:
According to SRS, the Blazers are likely to finish with No. 7 in the west, behind the Nuggets and Thunder but ahead of the Clippers and Pelicans. The good news is that Portland would likely avoid the Warriors in this scenario. The bad news is that means they’d likely draw James Harden, Chris Paul, and the Rockets in the first round.