The Portland Trail Blazers have shot up the standings thanks to their ability to fill it up on offence. Can their high-powered offence continue to thrive in the postseason?
The Story So Far
The Trail Blazers started the season on fire, racing to a 24-7 record over the first two months of the season.
However, they have cooled off as the season has worn on, going 29-21 to date and sliding to the fifth seed in the West.
The Blazers have been one of the league’s hottest offensive teams throughout the season – currently third in points per game (106.7) and second in offensive rating (111.5), while playing the 12th fastest pace (94.9).
That high-powered offence is fuelled by the performance of star forward LaMarcus Aldridge – 23.2 points (sixth in the league), 11.1 rebounds (seventh) and 21.8 PER (15th) – and sophomore sensation Damian Lillard – 20.8 points (15th) and 5.6 assists per game (20th).
Portland’s offence revolves around high-volume shooting – currently third in field goals attempted, second in makes, third in three pointers attempted and second in makes.
However, they also leak points at an alarming rate. So far they’ve scored the most points in the league this season with 8643 through 81 games, but they have also given up the fifth-worst total in the league (8322) at the eighth worst average (102.7).
Overall, Portland give up the second most points of any playoff team – trailed only by the Houston Rockets – and allow more points against than cellar dwellers like the Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz.
The Blazers have all the tools to be a better defensive team – Nicolas Batum has excellent length, Wesley Matthews is as hard-nosed as they come in the league and Robin Lopez (11.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game) is a proven interior defender– but their stars need to step up.
In just his second season, Lillard is still learning to play defence at an NBA level, and Aldridge is only has a career 1.0 blocks per game average.
Defensive woes aside, it is scorching offence that has gotten Portland this far during the regular season and their ability to score is what they will rely on during the postseason.
Matthews (16.5 points, 39.3% 3FG, fifth in 3FG made), Batum (13.1 points, 36.3% 3FG, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists) round out an excellent offensive first unit.
However, Batum (36.3 minutes per game, 12th in the league), Aldridge (36.2, 13th), Lillard (36.1, 17th) and Matthews (34.2, 39th) have all had to play huge minutes during the reguar season,
Mo Williams (9.7 points, 36.9% 3FG) and Dorell Wright (5.1 points, 34.3% 3FG) are the only bench players that provide any form of contribution – and even then, they are inconsistent at best.
Postseason Performer to Watch
Lillard has taken the league by storm after bursting onto the scene last season.
He earned Rookie of the Year honours despite coming into the league with little fanfare, and took another step this season, making his first All-Star appearance.
He has also made a name for himself as a deadly late-game closer, nailing several game-winning shots in his short career.
Many of those game-winners came from beyond the arc, but that is not that surprising when you consider the success Lillard has enjoyed from downtown over his first two seasons.
The former Weber State star set an NBA record for three pointers made by a rookie last season, connecting one 185 triples. So far this season, he has added another 215, taking his total through two seasons to 400 and shattering Klay Thompson’s old record for most three-point field goals made through a player’s first two seasons of 322.
The point being that Lillard is one of the main culprits for the Blazers’ heavy reliance on jump shooting to power their offence. Whether Lillard is a product of the system, or Lillard’s long bombs fuel the system is another debate. But the fact remains that with no proven interior scorer on the their roster – even Aldridge scores the majority of his points away from the basket – Portland needs Lillard to be on target to make any impact in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
The Trail Blazers were able to shoot their way to victory during the regular season, but their trigger-happy offensive mindset could be their downfall come the playoffs.
They will face the Houston Rockets in the first round, who are the only playoff team that give up more points per game than Portland. So, the Blazers should be able to continue to score at will, but Houston also have an immense offensive arsenal of their own – second in points per game (107.8) and fifth in offensive rating (110.9).
Portland were able to score 109.5 points per game against the Rockets during their four matchups in the regular season, but also gave up 116.0 PPG to their opponents – Houston won the series 3-1.
Much of Portland’s offence revolves around running teams off the three-point line. And while that may stem the bleeding against the Rockets, Houston is also a proven scorer inside. James Harden and Jeremy Lin love to drive the ball and Dwight Howard is always a threat on the offensive glass.
Meanwhile, the Rockets have a much deeper bench unit than the Blazers, which is certainly something that can exploit over a seven game series.
Portland are an exciting team on the up, but they need to address their defensive issues and lack of depth before they will make it out of the first round of the playoffs.
Check out our Playoff Picture archives here.