It’s been a week (and a half) since the Blazers opened the 2019-20 season and it feels like we’re already in the heart of the season. Blazer fans got their first opportunity to check out the new faces this week and got their first look at this year’s squad. There were some close wins, some close losses, some injuries, and some incredible performances. If you missed it, don’t worry, every week I will be breaking down the Blazers previous week starting now with week one.
Wednesday 10/23 - Home loss to the Denver Nuggets, 108-100 (0-1)
The Blazers NBA record streak of 18 consecutive home opener victories gets snapped despite Damian Lillard leading all scorers with 32 points. Oh, and he also did this. Hassan Whiteside pulled down 19 rebounds to go along with 16 points on 6/7 shooting.
Friday 10/25 - Win at the Sacramento Kings, 122-112 (1-1)
Damian Lillard drops 35 points on 20 shots to give the Blazers their first win of the season. Seven Blazer players scored eight points or more.
Sunday 10/27 - Win at the Dallas Mavericks, 121-119 (2-1)
Lillard and CJ McCollum outscore Dallas’s Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis by a score of 63-61. Rodney Hood also chipped in 20. Zach Collins left with a shoulder injury that looked serious. We are still waiting the results of the MRI.
Monday 10/28 - Loss at San Antonio Spurs, 113-110 (2-2)
Damian Lillard missed two three pointers in the final four seconds that could have sent the game to overtime.
Wednesday 10/30 - Win at Oklahoma City Thunder, 102-99 (3-2)
Rodney Hood knocked down a huge three with 40 seconds left to seal it for Portland as the Blazers finish off the four game road trip with a 3-1 record. Anthony Tolliver got the start for the injured Zach Collins.
There’s always time for Dame time
Damian Lillard is amazing—shocker, I know. He’s been amazing for years now and we expect him to be nothing but amazing. But did we expect him to be better this year? Not many did, but he’s showing his ceiling keeps elevating. In the small five game sample size, Lillard’s scoring more per game and more per 36 than he ever has and at the same field goal percentage (44%) as last year. That said, it’s not his scoring that looks to have taken a leap, but his playmaking. Lillard’s assist numbers were in danger of taking a hit without the help of the Jusuf Nurkic pick-and-roll, but instead, Lillard is averaging career highs in assists with 7.6 per game and a career low in turnovers with just two. With the Bosnian Beast out of the lineup and an arguably less effective supporting cast, Lillard has had to do more than he’s ever had to, but he’s had no problem answering the call. No stagnation with the letter O—he continues to play like he has more to prove.
2nd unit -
One of the Blazers’ biggest weaknesses last year was an unreliable bench. The front office shuffled the cards this off-season but the results have not been promising. According to Hoopstats.com The Blazers bench last year was net -0.9 compared to opponents benches on the year. This year so far, they are a net -10.8. To put it in perspective, Damian Lillard is a plus 7.3 in box score plus-minus. The next highest Blazer that has played more than 60 minutes this year is Hassan Whiteside at 0.2. This will undoubtedly change with the addition of Nurkic and a healthy Zach Collins, but it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on moving forward.
While the second unit is still a work in progress, Portland has some young talent on this roster worth getting excited about. Not many expected much from Skal Labissierre this season, but his 7.7 offensive rebounds per 36 leads the NBA for players with over 50 minutes played and his per 36 numbers of 18.6 points, 12.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks is nothing to scoff at either. At 23 years old, he makes young mistakes and young turnovers, but the potential to eventually become a cog in the Blazers system is certainly there.
Anfernee Simons may be the worst kept secret in the NBA at this point but his talent is not an embellishment. Simons carried the Blazers offense for a stretch when things looked tight against the Kings and he has scored in every game he’s played this year. The advanced stats don’t love Simons yet, but there is no one on the Blazers bench with the ability to light an offensive fire like he can. He should continue to be the primary scorer off of the bench.
The Blazer team does not look like a finished product but that can be expected from a young roster. As long as Dame is there and healthy, he will keep the Blazers in the playoff hunt until the big fellas rejoin the team. Portland’s 3-1 road trip was a great sign for this team especially picking up a win against a very good Dallas Maverick team. Losses to the Nuggets and Spurs can easily be forgiven at this stage of the year.
Monday 11/4 At Golden State Warriors
Thursday 11/7 At Los Angeles Clippers
Friday 11/8 Home vs Brooklyn Nets
The Blazers look to get back on track against a Warriors squad this is going through injury troubles of their own. Thursday’s match-up will put the Blazers across from a Clippers squad that is on track to become the favorite to emerge from the Western Conference. Both match-ups will set the tone for the Nets visit to the Moda Center on Friday.