On Tuesday the 10th the Blazers hosted the Orlando Magic, where № 1 pick Paolo Banchero has proven himself the consensus Rookie of the Year honoree and established a critical role in the success of his team. For their part, the Blazers… well, the Blazers are struggling. There's more to read about that below.
As hopeful as we could be that the Blazers would shake it off and come through with a home victory against an East opponent currently inhabiting the bottom ranks, it was not to be. The Magic—unsurprisingly—used their length and supremely physical play to hand the Blazers a 109-106 loss.
- BEdge recap
- BEdge analysis
- Associated Press recap
- Previous analysis: Game 39 at TOR, L 105-117
- Next analysis: Game 41 vs. CLE, L 119-113
About that shooting
Too often in this rough patch—but not exclusively to it—the Blazers have shot outside of 10 feet like… well, like they'd rather be playing golf.
The Internet tells us that since Damian Lillard joined the team during the 2012 offseason, they've shot worse from beyond the three-point line 16 times, and one other time exactly as badly. For some reason, though, their performance in this game felt catastrophically bad. Kevin Calabro even called it out in his call during the following game, when he suggested that the Blazers had been unable to "hit the broad side of a barn"—the exact metaphor that stomped through this writer's head several times during this game.
The good news is that the Blazers were able to produce inside, and in fact their shooting percentage on the game and their score differential were both respectable for most of the game.
Something, whatever it is, has gotten in these guys' heads. Maybe the stuff we all know is enough: the parade of nagging injuries, road rigors, communicable illnesses, and speculative moments about the trade deadline might well be enough on its own to make the team's play look tentative at best, listless at worse.
The team with the puncher's chance
As a team that four days later carries a 16-27 record for 14th place in the East, we can be certain that the Magic's flaws are many.
We can also be certain that they can turn on the physical, aggressive play when they please. Against an uncertain, dithering team like the Blazers are of late, such play attacks a severe weakness directly; the connection wasn't obvious, but the Blazers' poor outside shooting in this game was at least fractionally a result of Orlando's physical play. Worst of all for the Blazers, though, was the consequence of that physicality: the Blazers earned two more personal fouls, six fewer free throw attempts, and four fewer free throw makes than their opponents. That's an unwelcome role reversal from what Dr. Jekyll's Blazers were accomplishing not so long ago, a reversal that saw three Blazers starters nearly dismissed.
Anfernee Simons: what now?
Blazer's Edge has been rife with talk of Ant's downside: having him in the starting lineup makes this a retread of the Dame-and-CJ backcourt that the Blazers paid so dearly to dismantle, the conventional wisdom says.
From there the abuse starts: he's no good at defense, it hurts the team when his usage rate is high, he's not clutch, et cetera, et cetera.
Some of those criticisms appear to be correct—and what better time to entertain them than after a losing game against his hometown club?
However, there's something this writer keeps bringing up, and believes that it's critical to understanding why Ant makes a less-than-optimal fit with any roster that includes the likes of Dame, Jerami Grant, and Josh Hart.
In passing judgment by standards informed by four decades of watching guys ball, it does in fact appear that Ant's defense often wanders—literally—into the realm of the disastrous.
The good news—if we can call it that—is that the reason for these poor performances is obvious.
Ant's whole orientation toward the game is focussed on the ball.
…And with that, thousands of youth coaches across America groaned with helpless understanding. How the Blazers organization has let this carry on for more than four years without already taking concrete steps in remediation, is a story we should all very much want to read.
The instant Ant has his hands on the ball, he starts to switch on. The same is true when the defense puts him man-on-man against the ball. This writer sees at least one play per game where Ant's defense becomes somewhere between intelligent and heroic. He's blameless against accusations of a lack of ability.
The problem, of course, is that a basketball lineup is not one guy with the ball, or even one guy with the ball and four without.
GOOD BASKETBALL IS FIVE GUYS WORKING TOGETHER, to the best of their ability.
If Anfernee Simons cannot develop an appreciation for that reality of TEAMWORK, reflected in his play, he needs to be sent down to create offense for the second unit, or traded to a club that won't care about his weakness for playing on the ball.
The Blazers are a worse team until they obtain one of those three outcomes from Anfernee Simons.
- This rough patch gave Zach Lowe not just one but two of the clips that appeared in yesterday's Ten Things, both of them displaying stellar offense at the Blazers' expense, on their home court.
- Officiating continues to be an absolute drain on the Blazers' momentum, in stretches becoming so mercurial that even Kevin Calabro saw fit to say as much during his call of this game.
- Something has gone awry with the Blazers' spacing. On both sides of the ball they often bunch together on the strong side like raw recruits under live mortar bombardment. Whether or not this trouble is down to ad hoc play or an unintended consequence of coaching, is as yet unknown.
On Thursday the 12th the Cleveland Cavaliers handed the Blazers yet another loss, albeit one in entirely different fashion until the end. The analysis of that loss will be following shortly.