Game 37 at MIN: Heaps of almost

Last night the Blazers were in Minneapolis against the Timberwolves, who were welcoming back Taurean Prince and still missing Karl-Anthony Towns. For the Blazers Jusuf Nurkic started, not quite in five-out-of-five-stars condition but much better able to fulfill his role than in Portland on Monday night. Gary Payton II was off of the gametime roster, though, presumably to give Monday night's light injury some time.

After an uncertain start the Blazers found their rhythm in the 2nd quarter, and weren't out of the game until there was about a minute left on the game clock. What they couldn't find was a way to slow down Rudy Gobert in the interior, which led to a parade of kick-out and give-and-go moves for made field goals… or fouls. That rubric of futility left the Blazers playing from behind throughout, yielding a final result of 106-113.


Nurkic, Eubanks, Simons, and fouls

Nurk fouled out. Drew Eubanks—who already had five fouls when Nurk was dismissed—promptly followed. Finally, from halfway through the first quarter Anfernee Simons was dogged by foul trouble, accumulating five fouls of his own by the end of the game.

For Nurk, the biggest problem was moving screens—and Gobert Euroflopping all over the place later in the game, a habit Nurk himself has broken altogether. Eubanks' trouble came because he was too often too quick to rise in front of the ball. Ant's mistakes were those of a newcomer to a skill, that skill being survival in the low-post hurly-burly.

If the officials had been just a shade more sympathetic to the Blazers, the visiting team might have pulled this one out. Instead, this game became yet another testimonial to the frustration of trying and failing.

That's right. They tried, all of them. There are worse reasons for being in foul trouble.

On momentum

A curious side-effect of Ant's foul trouble was his plus-minus, again a team-worst. He didn't have many assists, either, but that was because it was usually Damian Lillard, Jerami Grant, or Josh Hart bringing up the ball—and Dame or Nurk distributing. The plan was a good one: get Ant into catch-and-shoot situations at his favorite spots, generally a good path to production, except that last night too many of the shots were rushed, particularly the three-point attempts. Nor was Ant the only one with this problem, especially early in the game.

Basketball is very much a game of momentum, really of mood. If you believe it will go in, it usually goes in. The belief is the consequence of shooting in rhythm, a less-common phenomenon when a player's feeling pursued beyond his ability to handle the pressure—and few things will put on pressure like having your game role wholly in the hands of the officials, never a welcome impression.

Here's to the prospect of Anfernee Simons gaining comfort with the pressure.

The bad passes continue…

Sixteen turnovers on the game is nothing to be ashamed of, at least relative to the balance of the Blazers' performance this season. On the other hand, in a close game the impact of such mistakes is awfully magnified.

Handles lost on the dribble and rip-aways are frustrating, but they're to be expected. Not everybody can be Chris Paul with the ball in their hands.

Where Portland seems to excel, though, is giving opponents meaty transition opportunities out of bad passes. Those take one of three forms, in which the pass is:

  1. Disrupted by an opposing player who's been primed by the film to remember that the Blazers love to pass out of disadvantageous shooting situations, and commit to epic saves and tip-outs that can send the ball all over;
  2. Under- or overthrown by a rattled Trail Blazer; or
  3. Directed at space where there should be a Blazer to catch it, but where there isn't. (Many of these also wind up out of bounds.)

To the Blazers' credit, most of their live-ball turnovers in a given game take the first form, and shot clock violations are rare: these are guys who know quite well how to move the ball amongst themselves, but who often neglect—or are denied every way—to send the ball along with care.

The other two scenarios betray a loss of focus, however. Why are the Blazers continuing to have focus issues this late into the season?

Adjunct to passing on account of turnovers are Nurk's moving screens.

Seriously, dude. The zebras are onto you. Think about it, then act.

One thing about offensive rebounds

Offensive rebounds are friendly. They effectively represent a free possession. Every team should get more of them, because they're fun to watch.

…But offensive rebounds on top of troubled, often highly-pressured shooting only eat clock and drive down field goal percentage.

For the Blazers a big chunk of that unfortunate result comes from relying on the presence of so many young and small operators. The officials see the effort, but they're not always sure what business those baby ballers have down there, and judgment calls are too likely to go the other way. As for the rest of the unfortunate outcomes, well, those are just about guys being undersized if not always young.


  • Sending the ball inside is always Portland's Plan B, and last night they proved that they're getting good at it. In spite of underwhelming three-point shooting they were still able to maintain adequate production by bringing the ball down to the basket, usually on drives by guys who decline the outside shot and accept the pick.
  • On the downside, the Blazers proved again that they're ordinary at best when it comes to getting their spots. [Author's note: consult the analysis of last Saturday's game against the Warriors for a more detailed discussion of this issue.] Both success and failure turn out like you'd expect, on both sides of the ball.
  • This writer likes to nitpick Kevin Calabro's flubs, but that's because he's sometimes an anklebiter, and there's nothing else to criticize, what with KC being a consummate professional. However, the turnover situation defeated Calabro's professionalism, turning concerned observations into plaintive criticism. Really not kidding about those turnovers being a problem…
  • The problem with weak-side corner three-point attempts has not gone away. If Minnesota had made more of theirs, or turned defensive failures into more shooting opportunities, the game might have become a blowout.
  • After Nurkic and Eubanks were dismissed, the Blazers' offense lost a beat when Dame called for a pick, only for Hart to realize belatedly that he should probably set one. That was a depressing moment, but still a touch chucklesome, and testimony to how well those guys play.
  • Another such testimony is to be found in Grant's steady shooting hand. Where Simons is still adjusting to the pressure, Grant has taken ownership of it and sometimes feeds off of it. That acquisition is looking better and better every game.

The Blazers will be in Indianapolis tomorrow night, finishing out that home-and-home pair. The Blazers took the last game's go-ahead shot late in the first half, buoyed as they were by the fresh return of Damian Lillard from injury and a payoff on Nurk's work to broaden what he has to offer at the three-point line.

The Pacers are on a bit of a tear, having won six of their previous eight games and coming off of a nailbiting road loss last night in Philadelphia. The Pacers might be looking for a scoop of revenge or redemption. We'll find out which—if any—shortly after 4 p.m. PST tomorrow.