Opening Statements: Wizards vs Blazers, Game 67 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards vs Blazers, Game 67

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Updated: March 16, 2015

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The Portland Trail Blazers kick-started a five-game road trip with a dismantling of the struggling Toronto Raptors on Sunday evening. Portland has won seven of their last eight games overall, after struggling leading up to and somewhat after LaMarcus Aldridge tore ligaments in his left thumb. The Blazers beat the Wizards in the first game (Jan. 24) after Aldridge opted-out out of having surgery (electing to play through the pain and deal with it in the offseason instead). But otherwise, from Jan. 14 to Feb. 22, the Blazers fielded a record of 6-11. Portland has also been dealing with injuries, including the torn Achilles of Wesley Matthews, now out for the season. Now they are looking like a franchise that will truly not feel sorry for itself. They are also a team unafraid to make a risky trade deadline move in order to stay afloat in a hyper-competitive Western Conference.

The East is seemingly the safer bet, at least terms of the Wizards falling back into the playoffs; no big moves needed, apparently.

“It doesn’t change shit,” said Marcin Gortat when finding out the day of that late-February battle that Aldridge would be playing instead of sitting out for 4-to-6 weeks. “We got to be ready to play. He’s just one player—he’s really good but we’re going to go at him,” Gortat added.

He then came up short in holding up his side of the unchanging fecal bargain. Gortat scored just four points and grabbed just seven rebounds in 31 minutes. All other starters each scored at least 15 points. The effort from the bench proved flushable as well—the five non-starters who saw significant action combined for 17 points on 7-for-22 shooting. Portland outscored Washington 24-15 in the third quarter and 34-26 in the fourth quarter (+17 in the second half) to win the game by seven points, 103-96.

TAI’s Sean Fagan with the Key Legislature:

Against Portland, it appeared for most of the night that Wittman’s “old school” basketball was going to get the better of Portland’s “bombs away from behind the arc” approach. Washington took a 55-45 lead into the half with the offense shooting at a tick over 50 percent. Everything for the Wizards was working. John Wall couldn’t miss from the field and was distributing the ball with aplomb, Nene was holding his own against LaMarcus Aldridge in the post, and Bradley “Sad Panda” Beal appeared to have been rejuvenated by the cool air of the Pacific Northwest, attacking the basket and being aggressive on both sides of the floor.

[…]

Despite their best efforts, the Wizards were done in by Portland running one of those crazy newfangled offenses that relies on chucking it from deep and letting their two stars (Aldridge and Damian Lillard) get to line and convert free throws.

Stopping by TAI to answer a couple questions today is Nathan Begley (@nathanbegley), Blazers follower, aspiring novelist, and occasional contributor to PortlandRoundballSociety, the TrueHoop Network Blazers blog. Let us go…


Teams: Wizards vs Trail Blazers
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Washington, District of Columbia
Television: CSN
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Wizards fav’d by 2 points.


#1) The Blazers are now even with the 2-seed Grizzlies in the loss column and two games behind them in the win column. It’s tough to know how important seeding will be in a Wild West, but no one is going to discount an extra game at home over a series.

Long story short, LaMarcus Aldridge made a good decision to forgo surgery on his ailing thumb. (And no, I wasn’t happy that it happened right before playing the Wizards in Portland on Jan. 24, a Blazers win.) How has LMA generally looked since? Other teams/players will obviously go after his injured left thumb, but has it been noticeable? And LMA once said that the injury only really affects his ability to rebound with one hand, but have you observed other implications? 

@nathanbegley: LaMarcus Aldridge is definitely compensating for the injury to his thumb. Aldridge is a cerebral player and has adjusted his approach to continue to produce in spite of his torn ligament. Regardless of Aldridge’s assertion that the injury only affects his work on the boards, Aldridge has actually maintained his rebounding levels fairly well. Instead, it is on the defensive end that the most dramatic impact from the injury has been seen as Aldridge has been noticeable cautious with his thumb. For instance, Aldridge seems a bit more hesitant to go for his patented strip move where he swipes his hand down as the opposing player brings the ball up for a shot. Likewise, Aldridge seems to be a bit less likely to go up aggressively for a block. Prior to his injury, Aldridge was averaging a steal and a block per game through December and January. Since then, Aldridge has recorded only seven steals and nine blocks in the last 15 games.

On offense his shooting percentages are down slightly across the board with a few quick catch-and-shoot possessions replacing a post-up or face up drive or two. The change in shot selection has resulted in about one less trip to the line per game. Overall LaMarcus seems to be playing at 90-to-95 percent of full capacity—dangerous, but diminished.

#2) When a key player gets injured, the oft-used phrase is ‘next man up’—other teams will, however, also spit out the ‘it’s not just one guy’ cliché.

Portland got nice ‘next man up’ value with the trade deadline acquisition of Aaron Afflalo, but take us through the layers of living without Wesley Matthews and what all has to happen to truly compensate.

@nathanbegley: Wesley Matthews plays a gritty brand of basketball with a balls-out commitment to defense that no other Blazer has thus far been able to replicate. While Batum is all long-arms and chase down blocks, the Frenchman plays a measured and calculating style of defense waiting for his chance to swoop in like a hawk to slap an errant layup out of play. Meanwhile, Matthews’ blend of floor burns and aggression inspires an infectious scrappiness that carries over to the rest of the team. Matthews’ attacking style of defense is perhaps best personified by this steal to seal the victory in Game 4 of last year’s Houston/Portland first round matchup, a series where Wesley held MVP candidate (and notorious flopper) James Harden in check.

The presence of Aaron Afflalo does help mitigate the drop-off that would have occurred had Portland not made the trade, but Afflalo was supposed to be the answer to Portland’s perennial bench issues. Now, instead of a stronger bench, the Blazers have pretty much the same bench and a slightly weaker starting unit.

After Afflalo, head coach Terry Stotts will likely rotate his bench according to matchups. Dorrell Wright will see an increase in playing time, but Stotts has primarily used Wright as a small-ball 4 to mitigate his lack of foot speed. C.J. McCollum competes on defense and has shown flashes on offense, but he’s undersized at the 2 and can’t defend the 3. Steve Blake plays defense out of pure meanness but he’s a 170-pound point guard in his 30s. Allen Crabbe started games in place of Batum earlier in the season, but has had mostly DNP-CDs since. Alonzo Gee plays strong defense, but he fouls a lot and doesn’t create his own offense on the half-court. All of them can be successful in the right match up, but none of them fill in all the blanks that Matthews does. Oddly enough, center Meyers Leonard might benefit from Matthews absence as Leonard’s perimeter shooting ability allows him to serve as a release valve on offense à la Matthews.

Down the stretch in tonight’s game I expect to see Batum defend Wall with Afflalo on Pierce in the fourth quarter.

#3) John Wall has most evidently improved this season on defense (he’s engaged more consistently but needs to keep improving in that area), and in his ability/willingness to drive (Wall averages 7.1 drives per game this season creating 8.8 team points; last season he averaged 6.5 drive per game creating 7.8 team points).

Wall’s Free Throw Rate (FTr) is als up to .323 from .295 last season, but I feel that he needs to continue make getting to the line more part of his game.

Where has Damian Lillard, Wall’s adidas cohort, most improved this season and what could he stand to do better?

@nathanbegley: Damian Lillard has improved in the two main areas critics highlighted last season: on-ball defense and finishing at the rim.

On defense this season, Lillard has been noticeably better at fighting over picks in an effort to contain the ball handler. Lillard’s steal and rebound rates have also improved, putting him on pace to double his defensive win shares from last season.

Offensively, Damian’s ability to absorb contact and finish at the rim has improved dramatically and he has seen a corresponding rise in his field goal percentage at the rim from a middling 51 percent to an excellent 65 percent. Lillard’s 3-point percentage has been down this season, but that seems to be due to a slump and not a systemic flaw in need of attention, as he is shooting over 40 percent from 3 during March after shooting 27 percent over January and February. Overall, Lillard’s improvement at the rim has balanced out his two month long slump from the 3-point line to the extent that his true shooting percentage is almost identical to last season.

In regards to areas in need of improvement, Damian could use some work on his in-between game after coming around the pick. Once around a screen, Lillard is best when he steps back for a jumper or accelerates all the way to the rim for a dunk. Although Lillard had mentioned putting work in on developing a floater, it has yet to translate to in-game situations as Lillard is only hitting 26 percent of his chip shots between 3-to-10 feet.

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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.