Opening Statements: Wizards at Trail Blazers, Game 44 | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements: Wizards at Trail Blazers, Game 44

Updated: January 24, 2015





UPDATE: So, it seems that LaMarcus Aldridge is going to hold off on surgery to fix a torn ligament in his left thumb and will play versus the Wizards tonight. What say you, Marcin Gortat?

After beating the Spurs and Bulls in back-to-back games (after getting destroyed by the Hawks by 31), the Wizards since don’t exactly find themselves in a position backed by confident bragging rights. They got handled by the Nets by 20, in Washington—probably the most embarrassing loss of the season to date. They beat the Nets (in Brooklyn) and 76ers as perhaps expected, but then got out-clutched by the OKC Thunder this past Wednesday

Now Washington embarks on a four-game Western Conference swing. Ten out of their next 16 games will be on the road. First up, Portland. The Blazers have been hit with a bout of bad luck. They lost their lead star, LaMarcus Aldridge, for 6-to-8 weeks, then lost two games in the row (one to the Celtics in Portland), and have already slipped from the 2-seed to 3-seed in the West. After facing the Wizards this evening, Portland will play seven out of 10 on the road. The Blazers also might be without Nic Batum (wrist sprain, doubtful) and Chris Kaman (leg contusion, questionable) against Washington; centers Robin Lopez and Joel Freeland are currently out for an extended period of time.

Meanwhile, the Wizards are fully healthy but struggling in a search for consistency. They don’t have time to feel bad for Portland. Besides, Damian Lillard still exists. John Wall’s adidas buddy just might be good enough to beat the Wizards on his own. The Wizards have won two of their last three games in Portland (remember Jordan Crawford’s game winner, for olde tyme sake, which happened just over two years ago) and four of the last six versus the Trail Blazers overall.

Stopping by TAI today is Chris Lucia (@chrislucia_be), staff writer for the SB Nation blog, Blazers Edge. Let’s dive into the Q&A.

Teams: Wizards at Trail Blazers
Time: 10:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Moda Center at the Rose Quarter, Portland, Oregon
Television: CSN
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Wizards fav’d by 4 points (as of Saturday morning)

#1) LaMarcus Aldridge is out 6-to-8 weeks with torn ligament in his thumb. Total bummer.

The Blazers have scored 108 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court, 2.7 points above the team average, which is a team-best. So who rises to the prophecy of the next man up cliché?

@chrislucia_beTotal bummer is right. Aldridge is the straw that stirs the Blazers’ drink, so to speak. Most of the offense runs through him and his teammates find many of their open shots due to how much opposing defenses have to account for the 6-foot-11 power forward who can shoot 20-footers like they’re layups.

Realistically, there is no “next man up” behind Aldridge. So far, there’s not a single player on Portland’s roster that coach Terry Stotts can put in the starting power forward spot and be comfortable with in big minutes game-in and game-out. He’ll have to adjust his playing rotation to suit the matchups the team faces on a nightly basis.

Dorell Wright can stretch the floor and create a bit of offense, but he’d get roasted in the post by a traditional power forward. Thomas Robinson brings the energy but sometimes the passion he plays with can be as big of a detriment as it is a benefit, and Victor Claver has seen some time at the four spot lately, as well. I’d expect to see Meyers Leonard starting once Robin Lopez and/or Joel Freeland return from injury in the next few weeks. He’s got the size, athleticism and the shooting range to best replicate what Aldridge does offensively—compared to Portland’s other options right now, at least—but Stotts needs him right now to back up Chris Kaman at center.

So for now it’s going to be either Wright, Robinson or Claver at the power forward spot depending on the specific matchup. I’d anticipate Robinson starting tonight against Washington to go against Nene, but at this point, it’s a toss-up until we see how Stotts’ rotations unfold in the coming weeks.

#2) The Real Plus-Minus stat ranks NBA point guards as follows:

  1. Curry
  2. Lowry
  3. Paul
  4. Lillard
  5. Westbrook
  6. Wall
  7. Teague

You’re not starting a branding new team with one of these point guards, you’re adding them to an already veteran laden team … in the Adriatic League. Rank who you would choose.

@chrislucia_beHmmmm… So, who would I choose to add to a veteran Euroleague team? Lillard, Curry and Paul’s shooting range would dominate overseas where the 3-point line is shorter. Although Lowry, Westbrook, Wall, and Teague could all do a ton of damage by getting into the paint and kicking out or finishing at the rim among smaller frontcourt players.

I think my order would go something like this, though it would ultimately change depending on the talent around them: Curry, Lowry, Lillard, Paul, Wall, Westbrook, Teague. Really, though, you can’t go wrong with a single one of these guys, and you could even include players like Mike Conley, Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe or Ty Lawson, too. Point guard is such a stacked position in the NBA right now, it’s crazy.

#3) Aside from Lillard for sure (and maybe LMA), which two players do you most envision on this Blazers team three seasons from now, 2017-18 (and touch on LMA’s unrestricted free agency status this summer if you would like, i.e., is he a five-year max player?

@chrislucia_beAldridge is 100 percent, no doubt a five-year max player. Would I be cautious to give $110-plus million to a guy who turns 30 in July? Sure, but it’s not my money. Also consider that Portland isn’t likely to ever attract a player of his caliber via free agency, so they have to keep the homegrown talent around, and Aldridge is top 3 at his position and arguably the best power forward in the game right now. Blazers fans are hoping that his production doesn’t tail off as he advances further into his 30s—à la Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, etc.—and that he’ll remain free of serious injuries in the long-term. Paying a guy like that $22-ish million a year isn’t going to look too bad if/when the salary cap goes way up in the next couple years, either.

Lillard’s sticking around, and I’d be surprised if Wesley Matthews didn’t get a long-term deal from Portland this summer. Batum and Lopez won’t even be 30 by 2017, so I think Blazers GM Neil Olshey will also try to find a way to pay them to stick around.

Continuity is a buzzword right now in NBA circles, but it’s pretty justified. Look at the top teams in the league right now and you’ll see that most of them have minimal roster turnover (at least in the starting lineup) from year-to-year. If Olshey can find a way to keep Aldridge, Lillard, Batum, Matthews, and Lopez in Portland, 2017-18 would be their fifth year together as the core of the team and they’d all be in their late 20s or early 30s. I’d imagine Olshey and team owner Paul Allen will try to figure out a way to keep this core in tact as hard as possible.

#4) What’s the story with Nic Batum? According to one metric (eFG%), he’s having the worst shooting year of his career by far—45.8%, which is 6.4% worse than his previous career-low in 2012-13.

@chrislucia_beWell, yeah, Batum isn’t shooting nearly as well as usual, and it’s inspired a vocal minority of Portland fans to sound off about how Olshey should flip him right now while he still has perceived value across the league.

Personally, I find that a bit reactionary, short-sighted and under-informed. Batum has spent his summers for years playing with the French national team, he suffered a knee contusion in November then aggravated the same knee injury and messed up his shooting wrist a few weeks later in a game against the Bucks when Larry Sanders sent him to the floor on a hard foul. Batum has been tired and banged up all year, so it’s no surprise that he’s not able to score consistently at his career levels.

I’m not worried about him long-term, and I think when fans in Portland focus solely on his lower shooting percentages, they’re not taking into account everything else he does on the court, which is initiate the offense, grab rebounds, and consistently defend up to four different positions effectively. Yeah, you’d like to see Batum hit his open 3s—and eventually Stotts will need him to do that—but he’s clearly playing through pain right now.

If he’s still shooting like this after the All-Star break and into the playoffs when the team will need him most, I’ll be much more worried. Until then, though, I think Batum deserves the benefit of the doubt.

#5) Thomas Robinson, son of D.C.—there were talks of the Wizards being interested in drafting him in 2012. Thankfully, they got Bradley Beal instead … and definitely not Dion Waiters.

But with T-Rob, who’s been on three teams already by this his third season, what has led to his comfort zone in Portland? He numbers are better than previous, how close is he to performing to a fifth overall pick levels?

@chrislucia_beIt’s probably important to note that Robinson was more of a financial casualty when the Rockets traded him to Portland the summer before last, when Houston GM Daryl Morey was clearing all the room he possibly could to acquire Dwight Howard.

That said, Robinson certainly hasn’t lived up to his billing as a No. 5 draft pick and that was made clear back in October when Olshey declined to pick up the (roughly) $5 million team option on the 23-year-old power forward for next season.

Robinson may not ever be a full-time starter in the NBA, but his athleticism, hustle and effort—particularly on the glass—can turn the tide of a game in Portland’s favor pretty quickly. He plays his best in front of the home crowd, for sure, when he can feast off the energy in the Moda Center. Being behind Aldridge in the rotation has probably helped stabilize Robinson’s outlook. He’ll never be a big minutes guy for the Blazers by virtue of him backing up the best power forward in the game, but he can be a rotational player who can provide a spark offensively and come through with big rebounds. Robinson’s energy can ignite the team on the defensive end, though it can also go both ways.

I’d say he’s comfortable here because there’s really no question what his role is and Stotts seems to run his bench rotation as a meritocracy, so Robinson knows what he needs to show in practice and in limited court-time to stay on the floor.

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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.