This piece has been especially difficult to line up in the starting block, for three reasons:
- In its sequelae my recent coronavirus infection reveals that it wasn't my first time 'round, and the knock-on experience is in a lot of ways worse. I've been suffering twice the myalgia at the price, with predictable effects on my energy level.
- It's been pointed out that the Blazers have lost six of their last eight games, and all have been lost due to statistically-predictable mistakes. I'd really rather be writing about what the Blazers do surpassingly well, but there's precious little of that lately.
- It's far easier for me to watch these games at my computer so that I can take notes during play without rearranging my entire body, but thanks to obtusely reported, unrepaired, unsuccessful DRM handshakes with Chrome for Windows, I'm stuck in front of the television, sitting in the sort of sofa one sinks into, taking notes longhand.
It's just not my week, yanno?
The Blazers came to Indianapolis on Friday night, anxious to improve on their losing effort in the Twin Cities.
Things looked to be headed in that direction, but there were just too many turnovers. A lot of the credit goes to the Pacers' watchfulness and defensive pressure, but quite a bit too much was down to sloppy handles and underthrown passes.
These issues sat on the Blazers for the last five minutes of the game, ending every chance they got to nail down an advantageous situation. They got the stops, but they didn't get the makes, and the final score turned out at 99-108.
- BEdge recap
- BEdge analysis
- Associated Press recap
- Previous analysis: Game 37 at MIN, L 106-113
- Next analysis: Game 39 at TOR, L 105-117
The inside game
The Blazers appeared neither entirely able, nor entirely willing, to prevent Indiana from getting shooters into the low post. The turnovers might have opened the door for Indiana to win the game, but the porous interior defense brought them up to the Welcome mat.
Part of this trouble we can blame on the ongoing efforts to adjust the defense and hide its deficiencies more effectively—and we should all prefer a failed attempt to no attempt at all. In the former case, at least people learn and have a chance to improve, however illusory.
The main problem, though, is about the roster construction issue that's dogged the team for the past several years: the guys on the court just too often lack long enough legs to cover all of the high-volume spots, while their opponents suffer no such trouble.
Getting a solidly-shooting Jerami Grant onto the roster is a huge step in the right direction, but that step is only one of several the team needs to take in order to button up their defense.
The good news is that the Blazers have made a leap forward at hanging the same trouble on their opponents. It was visible on Wednesday, and even moreso on Friday night—and without relegating Anfernee Simons exclusively to catch-and-shoot duties off of the three-point line. He took—and missed—plenty of those shots during this outing, but his presence and Dame's beyond the three point line create alternative centers of gravity that force opponent defenses to choose and follow a plan much earlier in the shotclock, than has been the case for most of the season.
There are virtues to the earlier wait-for-mistakes offensive philosophy, but that approach needs the Blazers' usual above-average jumpshooting to be effective.
The Blazers' present shooting slump cannot end soon enough.
We all saw this coming at Summer League, but we didn't know that it would catch on so soon, or catch on at all while Walker was still playing for the Trail Blazers.
It might well turn out that Walker will stay with the Trail Blazers for a while, unless he becomes the value piece in a trade this season or next. He's certainly not on the hook for playing the salary-filler role.
Walker's newfound spot in the rotation was pried open by Justise Winslow's injury, then turned into a real opportunity by Jusuf Nurkic's recent, intermittent absences from gametime rosters.
…And what does Walker bring? Authority at the rim is Walker's value-add. Perhaps it's because the Blazers are so small that they can get away with calling a 6′9″ guy a power forward, but in the low post he throws himself around like a guy with two more inches and forty more pounds than he claims on his player profile. It's glorious.
As a twenty year old second round pick there's no mistaking that he's got some growing to do, but for a twenty year old second round pick Walker is far, far above the usual curve.
Let's all hope that Chauncey Billups finds ways to play Walker with Nurkic when Dame would prefer to stay the floor general, because those two together could create something special.
That turnovers lost Portland this game was obvious, but everybody just lets the thought sit out there. Turnovers are bad, BAD!
Okay, we get it.
…But more than meddlesome officials, more than opposing outside bombers on shooting streaks, turnovers suck momentum out of an offense like no other.
Get a turnover? That's a lost possession. Get a turnover early in the shot clock? That's a lost possession, and too often a foul at the other end since the defense is now moving off the back foot. Get a turnover from an underthrown pass in the halfcourt? A disadvantageous fast break is far less likely, but working off the back foot is still a problem and requires a lot more energy to repair.
We get it. Turnovers are bad.
- Nurk's touch at the three point line appears to be losing some of its sharpness, but these rough patches often come and go. Journey, thousand miles, single step, &c. We should still look forward to the sheer insanity that can come off of the three point line, and the high-low opportunities that open up, when Nurk becomes steady at the three point line.
- The brightest line on the box score came from Josh Hart, who delivered a non-trivial quantity of (cuh-razy) efficient scoring, including two three-pointers properly lined up and made. Apparently, ten rebounds just wasn't enough.
- The frequency with which Dame is undershooting his attempts is cause for mild alarm. It could be the yips, it could be lack of rest, it could be an issue with his eyesight, it could potentially be a product of the frustration a man feels when he's just going through the motions. Whatever it is, let's hope that the Blazers—and Dame—get to the bottom of the issue sooner rather than later.
- The reserves should be developed into a five-man unit of their own that gets to play together. The typical practice of leaving one of Dame or Ant in to play with the reserves is seizing away their ownership of offensive production, and keeping it with the starters. Even if it's for only ten or fifteen minutes a game, a tenth man needs to be given a meaningful spot in the rotation if we ever want to see the reserves show their best.
Two hours more or less after this story drops, the Blazers will take the court in Toronto. Toronto's result record looks even streakier than that of the Blazers, and the game is certainly within reach, but Fivethirtyeight's virtual warehouse of consoles is giving 2-to-1 odds on a Blazers victory.
We'll see if this game is another tacked onto Toronto's current streak, or the start of a new one, at 12:30 p.m. PST today.