Portland Trail Blazers Road Trip Comes To An End

Damian LillardIt’s over. This road trip did not go well for the Portland Trail Blazers. They finished 2-5 on the road trip and now have an overall record of 8-11 – and they needed three total overtimes to get those two wins. Now the Blazers will try to get back on track as they return to Rip City for a six game home stand.

As it sits right now, the Blazers are a lottery team. I don’t see this changing unless they can get back to .500 by the end of this home stand. With games against Sacramento, Toronto, New Orleans, and Phoenix, this is a possibility. You have to win home games against these mediocre teams if you want a shot at competing for a playoff spot. (They also play San Antonio and Denver during the home stand).

I realize that it may be a little early to talk about playoffs, it is a long season, but I think this team has a shot. This team has to be thinking playoffs, you can’t expect anything less. For this young team, you don’t want to put a lottery pick mindset in their heads. They must continue to work and get better.

The Blazers can finish anywhere from 6th to 13th. This is a wide range. This is because they have had such highs and lows in their play this season. You see potential, but then you also see major weaknesses.

I think that head coach Terry Stotts has finally found a rotation that can work for this team. Ronnie Price and Sasha Pavlovic have moved out of the rotation and their young guys are getting more minutes. Nolan Smith, Will Barton, Joel Freeland, and Luke Babbitt have all seen around 10-15 minutes per game the past few games – a span in which they have gone 2-2.

The bench has been more productive since the rotation change. In the last four games they are averaging 23.75 points per game. This is around ten points more per game than they were previously averaging. 

As I have mentioned before, this team cannot continue to rely heavily on the starters to score points. This is an area that they are improving in. I like that the young guys are getting more minutes.

With these young guys getting more minutes, it makes me wonder about the direction the Blazers organization is trying to go. This is a completely new rotation than Stotts has played with so far. Guys like Nolan and Luke didn’t get any minutes.

So, is the team looking to get their trade value up, or is this an audition to see who stay and who goes?

Either way, the Blazers may be looking to make a few trades in the near future. I can say this; the starters won’t be going anywhere. If there is a trade, it will be for more depth. I think the position we are in most need for is backup point guard. I haven’t seen enough out of Nolan Smith or Ronnie Price. I am hoping that Smith can step it up with an increase in minutes, but he is the guy I would be looking to trade at this point.

When it comes to the starters, they have had their struggles as well. Batum, Lillard, and Matthews combined to shoot 44 for 132 from beyond the arc during the recent road trip… around 33%. All of whom are shooting closer to 40% on the season. The old saying of “live by the 3, die by the 3” has become the motto for these three guys.

J.J. Hickson has been getting less minutes lately. That is a little confusing to me because I think he has played well this season.

The other big man starter, LaMarcus Aldridge, has finally started to play a little more inside than he did to start. This is where I would like to see him more often. This can get the opposing big men into foul trouble while earning LaMarcus some free-throws. I hate seeing the all jump-shots LaMarcus. He has a good shot, but the team needs to use him in more of a versatile role.

The starters have to be on their A-game for this team to be a 6, 7, or 8 seed. They have to win home games versus these lesser teams. The bench has to continue to get better, produce more, and play with confidence. If all fails, this team will be looking at one of the next top draft picks in the 2013 NBA Draft.

Next 3 games:

Sat, Dec 8 VS Sacramento

Mon, Dec 10 VS Toronto

Thu, Dec 13 VS San Antonio

Jason Hartzog is on Twitter. Follow him at @JHartsLife

About Arran Gimba