Enes Kanter and Rodney Hood, the Portland Trail Blazers’ 2019 Trade Deadline pick-ups, have provided much-needed depth and scoring punch for a talented, but thin, roster. The Blazers have gone 5-2 since Hood joined the fold, 4-0 since Kanter arrived. With the team 22 games away from the 2019 NBA Playoffs, folks are starting to wonder if Portland caught lightning in a bottle. That’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag question.
The Blazers look deep, strong, and they’re winning with consistency. Anyone who isn’t pleased with this is foolish, but how long can it last? Give us your take on how good the Blazers are with Kanter and Hood in the lineup with Layman and the regulars and tell us whether you think we’re good enough to make a move in the playoffs now.
The Blazers are looking great. They were always “good enough to make a move” in the playoffs under the right circumstances. That hasn’t changed. But the post-season isn’t about right circumstances; it’s about being able to defeat any opponent, anytime, anywhere. Despite the improved outlook, three types of opponent are likely to give the Blazers fits even with their revamped lineup.
Teams who can give Damian Lillard trouble.
Fortunately this type of team can be counted on three fingers, but as the New Orleans Pelicans proved in the 2018 NBA Playoffs, they do exist. If the opponent can single-cover Lillard most of the game, the Blazers can still lose handily even if he tops 20 points. If Jake Layman doesn’t get his cuts and Portland’s three-point shooters are covered, Portland’s offense will melt like sugar in the sink.
Added offense off the bench means that opponents shouldn’t be able to threaten the Blazers just by outscoring Lillard anymore, though. That’s a plus.
Teams who can make Portland’s centers work.
Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter have given the Blazers scoring punch inside during the brief time they’ve been paired together. They’ve bowed in defenses and given opponents recurring nightmares on the boards. The added pressure has turned mostly-good looks for teammates into downright great ones.
Portland’s centers have feasted against smaller, paint-bound pivots. They haven’t yet been matched up against a dominant player as big as they. Nor have they had to chase stretch fives around the court, or pick-and-roll threats good enough to make them show and recover. Fatigue and foul trouble rear their heads in all those scenarios.
Teams with can’t-miss forwards.
On paper, teams fielding an MVP-level forward shouldn’t cause the Blazers insurmountable difficulties. 28.8 points per game from Kevin Durant on 57.5% shooting from the field, let alone 40 POINTS from Paul George (while shooting 50%, 57.1% from the arc), tell a different story.
Al-Farouq Aminu is a good defender, but he’s outclassed by that level of opposition. Maurice Harkless, Jake Layman, Rodney Hood, and Evan Turner all rolled together don’t equal a great defensive player.
Even in the regular season, when teams tend to run predictable patterns, Portland can’t handle superstar wings. In the playoffs, opponents will target Portland’s weak spots and run it up.
The Blazers are slightly less vulnerable than they were before the trade deadline, simply because the roster is deeper. They can play to their strengths longer. Their weaknesses, while few, remain unaddressed.
If the game were building a Jenga tower, Portland’s stands taller now than at any time in the Lillard era. The upper reaches of that tower still rest on a couple precarious lower tiers. Past playoffs opponents haven’t out-built the Blazers as much as they’ve yanked out those single-piece layers, watching the tower crumble. That’s not going to happen much during the regular season. It might not even happen in the first round of the playoffs, depending on the prowess of the opponent. At some point the Blazers will run into a team that knows how to beat them. Hopefully they won’t get swept like they did against the Pelicans last year, but their chances of emerging victorious from such a battle are slim.
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—Dave / @davedeckard / @blazersedge / firstname.lastname@example.org