The Blazers ran into a team that is simply far more talented than they are Tuesday night at the Moda Center, and despite the Rockets not playing to their electric potential (27% on 3s and just 19 fast break points), the outcome was never really in doubt. The Blazers fought gamely and chopped the lead from 15 to 5 midway through the fourth quarter, but never really cracked the code to Houston’s offense, which seemed to generate quality shots whenever they didn’t throw the ball away (Portland forced 20 turnovers but Houston shot 55% from the floor and rebounded 29% of their misses).
Portland started exuberantly led by the hot shooting of Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews, but this failed to sustain itself and Dwight Howard locked down the lane, pushing the Blazers into a craps game with the dice loaded against them (Houston outscored Portland 54-28 in the paint). The relentless slashing of Harden and the inside presence of Howard (aided equally by Lopez’s foul trouble, Leonard’s incompetence, and the lack of mass present in the “small-ball” set with Aldridge at the center) turned the game. Portland’s late rally never looked likely to succeed and indeed it was quashed with minimal fuss by solid shot making from Harden and Beverley. Talking points:
How should this team play small?
While it’s long been agreed that LaMarcus Aldridge at center generates tremendous mismatches at center with his quickness and mid-range shot particularly when paired with an even more dynamic player at the 4, this game showed that this idea remains less than fully realized on this roster. With a perimeter trio of Matthews, Lillard and Williams, along with Batum at the 4, the floor spacing and ball movement is excellent. However, on the other end the perimeter players lack the length to cause any difficulties on defense, and I’m not sure that unit can rebound well enough to be viable in more than spot minutes.
One way to add more size would be to substitute Wright for Williams. This wouldn’t be a very good defensive unit at all, but at least the athletic combination of Batum/Aldridge/Wright would not be overwhelmed around the basket.
Does Damian Lillard need a caddie?
Terry Stotts has proven quite attached to the idea of playing Damian Lillard alongside another point guard. Mo Williams shared the floor with Lillard for 18 minutes tonight, and Williams received the 4th most minutes on the team. I am generally in favor of playing two point guards, but only where it helps a team get its best players on the floor. As it stands, Williams has been a poor scorer who takes poor shots outside the flow of the offense, and has committed plenty of bad turnovers offsetting some of the better work he does moving the ball around the floor. Further, the two PG lineup is a huge minus on defense, especially against a true shooting guard like Harden because it requires one of the point guards to cope with a forward on the defensive glass. If Lillard is uncomfortable dominating the ball for 40 minutes per game, I’d chop down his minutes load before using a largely untenable gimmick for extended stretches. Play your minimum salary backup like a backup.
Where is Nicolas Batum’s scoring touch?
While I’m a big advocate of what Nic can do as a passer, his true value lies in being an outstanding complementary scoring option on offense. While obviously it’s incredibly early, he’s at a lower usage rate than he was two years ago and roughly the same as last year, when his passivity was a problem for long stretches (though this could be chalked up to an injury). While he’s still a useful player, if Nic can’t start having a few of his signature hyper-efficient 25 point nights in a row, I might start to worry about him returning to his early 12/13 form.