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Game 21 vs. LAC: Almost there

The Blazers and Clippers both showed up in Portland, the Blazers on a pit stop during a long trip and the Clippers to start their own six-games-out-of-seven trip.

At Brooklyn it was Curry coming off the bench to frustrate the Blazers' march to victory, against the Cliipers it was Norman Powell. In both games it was Anfernee Simons who, after earlier brilliant performance, failed to bring the team's scoring all the way across the finish line. The collapse came entirely in the fourth quarter, during which the Clippers outscored the home team 36-17 and finished dealing the Trail Blazers a 118-112 loss.

Recaps

The good: when the offense works, it works well

The Blazers have developed a system that works well, at least when the team's passing is accurate: Dame or Nurk or Winslow take up station near the left elbow, starting the ball along the three-point line. Along it goes until somebody gets open, or the opposing defense starts to break down. At that point the on-ball player shoots if he's the open guy, or passes to the open guy. Sometimes the open guy is the distributor, who drives to the rim or gets a pick-and-pop for a three pointer, in all cases creating the opportunity for a spectacular finish.

As systems go it possess the best virtue of all, that of being simple. It plays to the Blazers' strengths, which readily create possessions in which the defense needs to figure out how to cover the entire halfcount. Finally this system offers the Blazers what they've needed most: a way to keep their most devastating scoring weapons off the ball until they can actually score.

The Blazers built their 17- and 18-point leads by staying disciplined at this system, managing to keep the ball one step ahead of closeouts.

The bad: the Clippers don't suck

[Ed. note: this writer has spent most of his time as a fan marvelling at how much the Clippers have sucked. It still feels weird to state that they don't.]

In the fourth quarter the Clippers buckled down, throwing lots of doubleteams and disrupting passes out from those doubleteams. In fact that threat was never far off; during the first half, the Clippers goosed Portland into rushing many of their possessions, and that ceased during the second half only because the Blazers made transition ball a priority.

Make no mistake: the Clippers did incrementally more to win this game than the Blazers did—or didn't—to lose it. Norman Powell's fourth-quarter detonation was extraordinary; the Blazers' failure to meet it was not.

The good: the Blazers take care of the ball

There were a number of possessions where the Blazers got rushed into bad passes or fell victim to poor communication and spacing, something to be expected from a team still trying to seize their mojo and known to have only a few excellent passers.

The necessary focus on keeping turnovers down has a lot to do with that fugitive mojo; these guys see their best selves running the court and scoring on the move, even as their experience and professionalism remind them that by surrendering to those impulses they will lose more games than they will salvage. That mindset is also part and parcel of Jerami Grant's success: he derives his confidence from getting to his spots, which his teammates have been happy to leave available to him.

The bad: guys were out

Both teams were missing marquee players last night: PG and Kawhi for Los Angeles, Dame and Payton for Portland. Early sympathy for Zubac from the officials got Drew Eubanks into immediate foul trouble, and shut down any hope of being able to play the bench as a unit.

We can let the Clippers solve their own problems, but these extended absences are creating a lot of trouble for the Blazers' season. At this rate the Blazers will be integrating players in February, whether they make any big trades or not.

Postscripts

  • This writer suggested that the smartest thing for the Blazers to do was to force the Clippers into putting themselves on Zubac's back, since he was sure to be awful trouble for the Blazers no matter what. A loss offers lousy vindication, but vindication all the same.
  • Take note of the correlation between Eubanks' presence on the court and the aggregate performance of the second string. It appears to be fairly strong, but "presence" here also refers to his ability to influence schemes and tempo—something likely found wanting from a player recovering from injury who's receiving unwelcome attention from the officials.
  • Jerami Grant's dismissal from the game was the arrow through the heart of the Blazers' hopes for a win, with Simons having gone cold. Grant's defense might be unspectacular, but it turned out to be the barrier holding back the most dangerous parts of the Clippers' offense. That ability on defense deserves more credit than it's getting.
  • To judge by the League Pass options, the Blazers told KC and Lamar to take the night off. This analysis is informed by KTLA's call, run by a couple of heavy hitters whose names are poorly documented in writing. These gentlemen made a point of praising Ant's play until his shots stopped falling, and it was glowing praise at that.

As these words are being written the Blazers are in Los Angeles preparing for their game tonight against the Lakers, with the game broadcast scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. PST. The Lakers' mismatched roster is having this season's rough go of it. At present it's anybody's guess whether the entertainment to ensue will be masterpiece or farce, but entertainment there will be.