In a parallel universe, the Portland Trail Blazers would dread seeing last year’s Eastern Conference number one seed Miami Heat tonight. Much to the chagrin of the Erik Spoelstra-led ball club, they will instead be tasked with preparing for a matchup against the number one overall seed so far this year, the Blazers, who are playing their tails off on both ends of the floor.
On Monday night, Rip City steamrolled the Denver Nuggets 135-110 behind heroics from Anfernee Simons. Damian Lillard’s backcourt running mate scored 22 points in the third quarter alone, en route to a 29 point night, bringing the Blazers back from as much as a 13 point deficit.
All’s not well in South Beach. The Pat Riley led franchise is sporting a 1-3 record, with all four games played at home. It’ll take more than a band-aid solution to fix an otherwise playoff shoo-in, who is struggling to score the basketball, at 28th in the association.
Blazers vs. Heat—Wednesday, October 26 - 7:00 P.M PT
How To Watch: Root Sports Plus, Bally Sports Sun, NBA League Pass
Blazers Injuries: Justise Winslow (questionable), Trendon Watford (out), Gary Payton II (out), Olivier Sarr (out)
Heat Injuries: Victor Oladipo (out), Omer Yurtseven (out)
SBN Affiliate: Hot Hot Hoops
- Chauncey Billups: Deservedly so, Portland’s players are getting the bulk of the credit for Portland’s phenomenal start. But it would be a disservice to not shine a light on Head Coach Chauncey Billups. In all four games, he’s understood timing, rotations, which players work well in which defensive schemes and against who, as well as offensive schemes. He’s gone man. He’s gone zone. He’s called plays out of the pick-and-roll. He’s let his players go one-on-one in isolation. He’s even brought out the full court press on a couple of occasions. Billups has proven that he has the trust of his players, and that the feeling is mutual. He has promulgated defensive intensity, and it has manifested. Miami is going to have their hands full with his frequent shifts in stratagems like a person trying to only make one trip from the trunk of their car to their front door with grocery bags on every finger.
- A Potential Close Finish: The official Miami Heat website made note of the fact that “the Heat’s first four games of the season have all been decided by single-digits, just one short of the franchise record of five to start a season (2001-02).” By the same token, Portland has had three single digit finishes, two of which came down to two-point closes. Miami’s issue has been failing to keep leads, and upping the ante down the stretch. Portland’s strength has been undoing any damage done in earlier quarters and coming through in the clutch. While Chauncey Billups has done a fantastic job on the clipboard and the sideline, Erik Spoelstra is no slouch – many consider him the best at what he does in the whole league. Chances are Miami won’t continue in their woeful finishes, and that Portland will be momentum filled, so the countering of both those elements may spell a close finish yet again.
- Faster Than You, Stronger Than You: There is a massive discrepancy in points in transition between the two franchises. Miami is one of only three teams averaging single digit fast-break points, while Portland is third in the league, punching in 20.5 points per game going the other way. But, Miami makes up for this by allowing only 40.0 points in the paint per game. Bam Adebayo must still be upset about his lack of defensive accolades last season, as he’s leading the charge of the third best paint defense that won’t just let opposing teams muscle them around. Portland pays for their speed with a lack of toughness inside, as they are conceding 53.5 points in the paint, good for 9th worst. If Yoda were sitting courtside as the play-by-play announcer, he might say “A battle of styles, this game will be.” It’ll be exactly that. Will speed out do imposition? Or will fortitude inside quell high-octane pace?
What Others are Saying
Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald accentuated many of the Heat’s deficiencies, with analytics to prove it:
The Heat has been below average on both ends of the court to start the season, entering Tuesday with the NBA’s third-worst offensive rating (scoring 105.6 points per 100 possessions), 13th-worst defensive rating (allowing 110.7 points per 100 possessions) and ninth-worst net rating (being outscored by 5.1 points per 100 possessions).
Starting point guard Kyle Lowry has had his own opinions on why Miami is struggling, and what might be the remedy, boiling down to three repetitious words:
We’re just trying to figure it out. I mean, honestly, it’s four games in. I think we’re trying to figure it out. I know we said running it back, and I agree with that, but we still have different guys in different roles in different situations,” Lowry told The Miami Herald in Miami’s locker room following the loss. “So we have to figure it out how to all be on the same page.
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Herring brought enthusiasm to his feature of the Blazers through four games this season, and one player in particular who has been making quite the impact in his role:
We’re even seeing glimpses of exactly what made Shaedon Sharpe, the No. 7 overall pick, such an intriguing gamble for this team to take. The athleticism is there. The range was on display Monday night. He makes good use of ball fakes and has incredible body control in traffic. Billups trusted Sharpe enough to make him the first player off the bench in the win over Denver. It’s too soon to know what all of this means. But the Blazers are armed with talent on both sides of the ball, and if they stay healthy, they’ll be both highly entertaining and intriguing as we head into April and May.
Join our Game Day Open Thread tonight, posting at 6:00 PM, Pacific.