A Nate McMillan game: slow paced and offensively efficient, the Wolves won this game simply by being scorching from beyond the arc and getting to the line, exactly as the box score says. There isn’t a whole lot a defensive team can do to affect three point percentage, so in that respect this loss isn’t really a bad one individually. This really just balances out some of the prior three point shooting luck. The bigger problem is the big picture.
Where the season stands
Thanks to their shiny point differential, the Blazers have easily been statistical favorites to make the playoffs for quite some time now. The worm has now turned in that regard. The Timberwolves are over 50% to make the playoffs in the Basketball Reference projector and 60% in the Hollinger projector while the Blazers sit in the 40s in each. This picture would be even dimmer if the Rockets were not also in free fall, losing a horrible game to the Raptors last night.
Nevertheless, each of these teams sits a clear two games ahead of Portland in the standings and has already secured the tiebreaker. That means Portland needs to make up a full three games on each, which is no small task in just 26 remaining games, and with Minnesota appearing to round into form (7-3 in the last 10 games against a tough schedule). Making matters worse, the Blazers have been treading water, going 4-6 with a point differential below .5 against a soft schedule the last 10 games.
What’s the end-game?
The Blazers have finished strong the last three seasons. But last season the acquisition of Gerald Wallace and his insertion into the starting lineup provided a massive talent upgrade and created tremendous mismatches with him and power forward and LaMarcus Aldridge at center. In 2009-10, improved play down the stretch was driven by finally putting Andre Miller in the starting lineup and acquiring Marcus Camby.
It’s difficult to say where that kind of improvement is going to come from this year. Nicolas Batum has already been given an increased role as a starter, has played 30 minutes in 10 of the last 11 games and has responded with the best basketball of his career. Nate has already switched point guards (twice!) to really no effect. Crawford and Felton have simply been ineffective in different ways: Crawford doesn’t defend or really orchestrate the offense, while Felton frequently appears out of control and has the second worse true shooting percentage of any player with over 1000 minutes.
There seems to be some idea that a trade would have an effect on the Blazers fortunes. While obviously most teams would be improved with the addition of Rondo and Nash, that’s probably simply not going to happen. In the realm of the possible, I remain extremely unconvinced that an upgrade to a middling point guard like Calderon or Ridnour would do anything. That’s particularly the case if Crawford is in the package. While Crawford’s game is ugly, he uses a ton of possessions with decent efficiency. If he’s traded for a low-usage guy like those mentioned above, the Blazers would need to distribute another 8-9 shots per 36 to Matthews, Felton and Wallace (I’m pretty sure Batum and LA’s usage rates are maxed out).
So the Minny game leaves the Blazers clearly in the imaginary 9th spot in the playoffs in the projections if not the standings (where they sit 11th). More discouraging, it also appears Nate has reached the end of the line in terms of lineup adjustments. He could do a better job, but is likely unable or unwilling to do it. And realistic trades also seem unlikely to put the Blazers closer to finishing with a flourish. #blowitup