Game 16 vs. UTA: Many corporals, few sergeants

The Utah Jazz were in town last night, just off of a nailbiting win at home over the Suns. They came up with new heroics at the Moda Center, winning last night's game 118-113, after repeatedly fighting off Portland rallies. Defending home court remains a problem. Nor can we blame the club exclusively; the reputedly irrepressible home crowd gives the impression that they don't know whether to be entertained, or invested.

Now the Blazers are staring down the throat of playing six out of their next seven games on the road, and look to spend Thanksgiving far away from home, preparing then for a game against the Knicks. The best they can do is keep their minds right and take things one game at a time. If the guys absorb enough lessons from film, the rest is entirely up to Chance. The following question has been one likely to be asked all season long, and we'll finally get to it here:

How will the Blazers fare, knowing that they're far from controlling their destiny?


Something afoot in the low post

We're witnesses to a disturbing trend: even teams that don't have heaps of length to pour onto the Blazers are getting the best of them at rebounds. Offensive rebounds especially are becoming a challenge.

Part of this comes from the Blazers' wait-and-see approach to halfcourt offense. As nice as it is to see the opposing defense miss a step and create a hole begging to be exploited, that's not a regular occurrence—especially with the season grinding on and guys getting their game faces on.

On long shots the defense can get to the basket before the ball, and if the man with the ball telegraphs the intention to drive—a common occurrence in circumstances like these—the same is essentially true. That turns an alarming number of Blazers possessions into one-and-out affairs.

Since defense of the three-point line is a focus of improvement, you've got guys learning how to nail down their spots and adjust their court vision. As long as the Blazers are playing catch-up in this area, rebounders are going to have their back to the basket and their focus aimed outward when the shot gets released. In the Blazers' case, that standing start is too often too much to overcome. In this game Portland did an excellent job of disrupting Utah's passes, but too frequently that pass would connect to an open outside shooter and become a made three-pointer that would get a two-point make in reply… or no make at all.

With their reliance on the zone defense the Blazers incentivize their opponents to keep getting to their spots, while the Blazers themselves are still learning how to establish some comfort with their newfound defensive power. The lessons come one game at a time, and the lessons taught by the past few games have tended to bring some pain.

Not hero ball, but discipline

It's probably an amalgam of good coaching and Us Against The World vibes that are keeping Utah high in the standings. Credit goes to Jordan Clarkson for putting the game away, but Lauri Markkanen and Malik Beasley were high-volume scorers last night, too. Utah's defense was competent-to-good, and the state of the rebounding battle's already been covered. It looks like a crazy trick of Neuro-Linguistic Programming to make it so, but to a man the Jazz are showing an aggressive disinterest in people's opinions about what they can't do. That's working for them.

Contrast that heads-down mentality with the Blazers' doe-eyed amazement at the early returns. Our guys are still trying to figure themsevles out, which puts them a step behind. They'll probably benefit from tuning out the doubters… but should keep up the contemplation as free time allows.

Dame's presence, or lack thereof

It looks from over here like Dame's underwhelming court time last night was due in great part to an unforeseen circumstance, and slack should be given where slack is due. A moment's consideration of his production reveals, however, that Utah's in roughly the same position with this victory that Portland's been in with several of theirs: the thin margin allows us to point at this advantage or that, and ask if that one brought in the W.

Meanwhile, healthy Dame wins this game for the Blazers. A lot of the whinging and overthinking about rebounds that you've read here was spurred on by shots that Dame missed on his way to one of his worst career games.

That cold fact begs a question: who leads the team on the court when Dame can't? Ant and Nurk are too retiring, Hart and Winslow more interested in being glue guys, and most of the others are too young and inexperienced. That leaves Grant—a guy the Blazers might not re-sign next summer—and Eubanks. While both are outstanding at taking action, neither has much of a reputation for running an offense. Even so, the team would benefit if they turn it up a notch and exercise some leadership.

Go ahead, take a moment. That paragraph was a heap to read, for sure. 'Twas a kick in the pants to write, too.

Teams that have been together a while can run on habit, because they can telegraph moves successfully. The Blazers are not half as lucky. They've got two old hands, a cohort of recent arrivals, and the bottom of the rotation is filled with guys who are short-timers, though we hope they won't always be. Whatever the case, somebody needs to step up. Dame's a force of nature, but telepathy's not included in that package.


  • The Utah player being given the most chances to excel and succeed is Lauri Markkanen. It looks good on him, and on them.
  • KC and Lamar already pointed this out, but it's worth amplifying that Eubanks' little contributions provided most of the momentum that kept the game at all close. Not a game has gone by this month when he hasn't had some small, pleasant surprise to spread out in front of us.
  • It was good to get a peek at Nurk the Three Point Shooter again, even if it was just for one play.
  • In spite of the amount of time the Blazers spent playing from behind, they excelled in a few suprising statistical categories, especially assists. Success elsewhere balanced out the Blazers' difficulties with taking care of the ball, countering unforced Portland turnovers with forced Utah turnovers.
  • Dame responded to his imminent reinjury by becoming a distributor, just as he did in Sacramento. More encouraging than that continued evolution is the implication that guys are staying out of iso—even Ant, last night—and keeping their eyes out for the open man.
  • Rest assured that whatever the look of the W/L column, the Blazers are working hard to sand off their rough edges. The aggressive transition game is wonderful, but it generates a lot of turnovers. The patience on halfcourt offense creates a lot of opportunities that get turned into amazing made shots, but eats the clock and sometimes forecloses all hope of snaring offensive rebounds. Positive foul differentials—and the free throws that go with them—are great, but require the ball near the basket, an area some teams are able to wall off. All of these tradeoffs can be made less damaging to the Blazers in the long run, but it's not all going to happen in one night.
  • League Pass web video player devs, please fix the event handling and bubbling issues that are clearly reducing the usability of your widget.

Over in Milwaukee the Bucks look well-nigh unstoppable, but count on the Blazers to try and stop them anyway. The game broadcast starts Monday night at 5 p.m. PST.