I have noticed a trend in teams that have been able to beat the Portland Trail Blazers this season. With one exception, the teams that have beaten the Blazers have been able to do something similar that Portland has struggled to defend. They all have a stretch 4 that has lured LaMarcus Aldridge away from the paint, and sometimes Robin Lopez as well.
Here’s a rundown:
Phoenix Suns – They have a plethora of bigs that can shoot in Channing Frye and the Morris twins. This is part of the reason why Portland is 1-2 against them. Add in the fact that both of their starting guards Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic can penetrate and kick or finish well around the rim and you have the reason why they are a matchup nightmare for the Blazers.
Houston Rockets – This is the one exception. They do put out a smaller lineup with Chandler Parsons at the 4, but they don’t play that lineup too much. That night, the Rockets beat the Blazers with duel starting centers in Omer Asik and Dwight Howard. They also had a great game from James Harden.
Dallas Mavericks – Dirk Nowitzki.
Minnesota Timberwolves – Kevin Love.
Miami Heat – With the Heat playing without LeBron James and Chris Anderson, they decided to go with a smaller lineup that consisted of Bosh at center and Michael Beasley at the 4 spot. Terry Stotts stuck with his rotation and didn’t match the smaller lineup. This resulted in Chris Bosh destroying Lopez all night before hitting a long distance prayer to end it.
New Orleans Hornets – Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis. When both guys are in the game, this gives Portland a lot of trouble. Portland pulled out a tough win against them in their first meeting, but couldn’t do it in the second.
Philadelphia 76ers – Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes can both shoot mid-range jump shots with ease, as seen in their 101-99 victory over Portland Saturday night.
Not all of these guys have filled up the stat sheet when playing Portland, but what it does for spacing against the Blazers defense is what gives these teams an advantage. Pulling Aldridge, or him and Lopez away from the rim. allows these teams to open the lane for easy points in the paint. If and when a player slides over, that turns into open shots with some extra ball movement.
What can the Blazers do to change this?
The Blazers are going to struggle versus teams that spread them out. The guards have to do a better job with staying in front of their man, especially against teams with bigs who can shoot from long range. It starts with Damian Lillard and Welsey Matthews. It continues with Mo Williams.
Another thing that they could do is match the smaller lineups of teams. This is just 1 of many reasons why I am excited for the debut of C.J. McCollum. His return will give Portland another guard in their rotation (hopefully) and provide them with the necessary assets to go with smaller lineups. They could go with Nicolas Batum at 4 and play 3 guards, while still being able to rest 1 of their guards. They could put Dorell Wright at the 3 or even play him at the 4 while Batum gets some rest.
Matching smaller lineups will help with quicker defensive rotations when a guy does get past Lillard, Mo, or even Matthews.
In the last six games, Meyers Leonard has moved into the rotation while Thomas Robinson has fallen out. It is said that Stotts wanted to spread the court more and he feels that he can do that with Leonard over Robinson.
The only problem with that is that Leonard is not hitting his shots and his court awareness is the equivalent to this play by Amare Stoudemire. I will say this though – the 7-foot Justin Bieber look-a-like had a solid game against the Charlotte Bobcats on Thursday night. So maybe he can turn it around.
It’s not that Robinson hasn’t been playing well. He is rebounding well and I love the energy he brings when he is on the court. It reminds me of how J.J. Hickson played when he was with Portland. I’m not yet a fan of the decision. I would like to see Robinson back in the rotation.
With C.J. McCollum set to be back with the team for Monday's practice (via Ben Golliver), someone is likely to lose a few minutes. I am hoping that the starters can just be cut back a little in order to make room for him. This will be Stotts’ next task – to figure out a rotation with a healthy McCollum on the roster.
I see him getting more minutes in games where they could use smaller lineups to match up with troublesome teams. It’s still yet to be determined what his role will be and how many minutes Stotts gives him. I’m excited, nonetheless.