Pinwheel Empire is a social Blazers site which aims to bring fans together in a unique and new community. It's run by a bunch of volunteer gerbils all over the world. We're new, trying to cross the Rubicon and do something different – it's an evolving process with a lot of small victories and defeats.
Team Records: Charlotte (3-19) at Portland (12-9)
Game Info: 7 p.m., TV on CSNNW, radio on 750 AM the Game
Vegas Line: Portland -14.5
Refs: Tom Washington, Brent Barnaky, John Goble
The Skinny: Following an aggravating loss Monday in Utah that culminated with an injury to Nicolas Batum which turned out to be not nearly as serious as first thought, Portland returns home to face the team with the worst record in the NBA. Charlotte has been simply awful this season, rarely competitive and losing 16 of their last 17 games, most by double digits.
Last Season: The two teams split the season series 1-1, with both winning on their home court. Portland has won the last three at home by an average of 19 points per game.
Projected Bobcats Lineup:
PF: Tyrus Thomas (LSU, 6th Season) – 7.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, .8 APG
SF: Boris Diaw (France, 9th Season) – 8.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.2 APG
C: Desagana Diop (Oak Hill Academy (HS), 11th Season) – 1.1 PPG, 3.3 RPG, .9 APG
SG: Gerald Henderson (Duke, 3rd Season) – 15 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1 APG
PG: Kemba Walker (Connecticut, Rookie) – 11.7 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.2 APG
Player to Watch: Kemba Walker (pictured at right) – In the midst of an otherwise lost season for Charlotte, rookie point guard Kemba Walker is quickly showing he belongs at this level. Walker is an explosive player on offense with shoot-first tendencies. A streaky outside shooter, Walker has begun to pass the ball more and more effectively as the season wears on. He is still working on his defense, but he seems to be rapidly improving there as well. Walker has the potential to be a legitimate star in this league but at this stage, only time will tell if he can make that leap.
Did You Know?: The Bobcats are the only current NBA team to have never won a playoff game. They were swept in their only playoff appearance.
Portland: Out – C Greg Oden (knee), SF Nicolas Batum (knee)
Charlotte: Out – SF Corey Maggette (hamstring), PG DJ Augustin (toe)
Charlotte does one thing well – block shots – ranking fifth in the NBA with 5.7 blocks per game. Pretty much everything else they do, they do poorly. They don’t play effective offense, ranking 29th in offensive efficiency, nor effective defense, ranking 28th in defensive efficiency. They are typically outmatched at virtually every position on the court and unless either Walker or Diaw have big nights, and are probably only competitive if both do. There is a reason they are dead last in the NBA in point differential – losing by an average of 12.7 points per game – and that reason is that they are simply a really bad team. They might be on the uptick in a few years as they rebuild, but for now, they are simply awful.
The Bottom Line:
Portland wins if: They knock Charlotte out early. Vince Lombardi once said, “Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” With an opponent that is used to losing, the best the Blazers can do is to make sure Charlotte knows they have no chance early and cruise to another easy home win.
Charlotte wins if: They make Portland think it’s a road game. Charlotte has virtually no chance of winning this, but any chance they do have is tied up in Portland playing like they are on the road instead of at home.CONTINUE WITH POST
The Portland Trailblazers visited beautiful Salt Lake City to play their inaugural game against the Jazz. The last time I was in Salt Lake City, it was for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. I remember being a tall, dark, handsome, single, mature, responsible young adult dreaming of bumping into the Canadian women’s snowboarding team in a sparsely inhabited bar filled with microbrews with the thermostat cranked to 101 degrees. After strolling around the doublewide streets of downtown SLC, I couldn’t find any bar, much less any women available for a nice friendly conversation. I later found out that the party was at the Olympic Village, but being a non-Olympic athlete, I was barred from all the fun. My dreams of finding the “one” for the week were crushed. This is how Utah Jazz fans must feel about Gordo Hayward.
Gordo went 0-8 in the first half in 14 minutes of play. After missing his first three shots, Gordo thought he had an easy breakaway but because he was completely unaware of his surroundings, only to find Crash blocking him from behind. The next play down, Gordo gets pick pocketed by Crash for another easy Blazer score. I’m pretty sure every white guy outside of Utah thought he could play NBA basketball for the Jazz after watching Gordo in the first half.
Utah is a funny place. People are superb, genuine, and passionate. The one thing missing from the town back then was a good Barber Shop. I was in such a rush to get to SLC for the 2002 games that I didn’t get my hair appropriately faded for the event. I looked everywhere around my hotel and eventually found a place called the Sophisti-cut. I figure that was the only location that can make the right fade for such a complex style on my noggin. Well, it sucked. I could have put a bowl on my head and made it better. I’m pretty sure Kanter and Gordo both go to the Sophisti-cut. They easily win the “teammates with the worst hairdo” award in the association.
Other than the suckiness of Gordo and his hairdo, Gerald Wallace brought his aggressive style on both ends for the Blazers in the first. Aside from that, the only other notable development is Nic being first off the bench and Craig Smith entering as LMA backup after rumors of him being the odd man out on a shorten rotation. Freak out much people?
45-39 Blazers lead at halftime.
Although my dreams of being in a hot tub full of Canadian women Olympic athletes were crushed, I still had fun in Park City. I remember getting a kiss from Kelly Clark, the US Gold medal winner of the women’s half pipe event. I wish she kissed me while she was still wearing her full helmet/gear so my image of her would stay intact, but some things in life are meant to be a Monet – much like our Blazers – good from afar, far from good.
LMA comes out hitting his first handful of shots in the third quarter and stretch our lead to nine. LMA is easily the best player on the court, and I would say most of us wish he felt the same way each time he enters the court. If he brings that type of confidence and aggressive play, I’m not sure many players can stop him. Without any help from his teammates, the Jazz cut the lead to one entering the fourth.
Nico also brought his restricted free agent game, hitting 4-4 from three in the fourth quarter. Kurt Thomas was so impressed that his crazy eyes almost popped out of their sockets.
The Jazz lead by three with 18 seconds left after Gordo missed one of two from the line. The Blazers take the ball down and pass it like a hot potato before calling a timeout. Nico passed up an open three. If he wants to take the next step, he needs to take that shot especially after going 4-4 from the three in the fourth quarter alone.
Out of the timeout, Nate calls a great play going through LMA for an inside out three but instead of taking the shot, Wesley drives to the hoop for an easy two. Down one with five seconds left. Wes fouls CJ Miles. CJ makes the first and misses the second, but we couldn’t grab the rebound so game over.
89 – 93 Jazz win
I could have written this ending last week when I went to Taco Bell during my lunch break. Did you know that SLC has the most Taco Bell location in a 10-mile radius of any city? There are so many Taco Bell locations that Josh Howard wears seven layers of sock in honor of the seven-layer taco. Next time we play in SLC, I’m going to Taco Bell to reminisce about 2002 Winter Games.
Players that sucked more than Creed singing at the 2002 Ceremony:
Questions real media people should ask:
Fake Quotes of the Night:
CONTINUE WITH POST
During the 2011 offseason, most opinions on the Blazers moves ranged from luke-cold to luke-warm. None of the moves were super sexy, but they also didn’t go around taking on horrible contracts that would compromise the future for years to come. The critical perspective is probably best summed up by Tim:
Problem is the PG we got is the definition of mediocrity and the move as a whole seems to signal that the Blazers brain trust really thinks they’re close to contending, which is unfortunate at best and shows a concerning level of delusion at worst.
In a vacuum, our roster is probably better and more balanced than it was before the draft but taking a more holistic view, I hate what we just did and where it looks like we’re headed.
While Norsk has a good version at the more charitable view:
They got a valuable rotation guy to use for a year. If it works out (obviously did for Dallas) you are stoked and try to re-sign him to be an age and skill fit with the rest of the core. If it doesn’t, not much is lost for the long term and you look for a new option.
Although they were just talking about the draft, the mentality of supplementing the roster with short-term solutions and eschewing a long term contract with the mid-level exception as well as declining to trade either veteran expiring (Camby and Wallace (I think he’ll excercise his ETO)) indicates that this is something of a wait and see year. If things go well, many of the pieces can be brought back. If not, the Blazers should have plenty of cap space this summer. In addition to Camby, Felton and Wallace coming off the books, Batum is up for RFA and Matthews and Crawford have reasonably tradeable contracts. Thus, 2011-12 is a trial year or something of a free shake, and the real direction of the roster will be determined next summer.
There is no such thing as a free lunch
Although management should be commended for not making any rash decisions to ruin future flexibility, the idea that this year isn’t costing the Blazers anything is incorrect. The Blazers approach to this season is reducing the value of the assets they do have, and in turn causing them to make any decisions this offseason from a weaker position. Additionally, they are using a year from LaMarcus Aldridge’s incredibly team-friendly contract, putting him that much closer to free agency. It’s also not entirely clear to me why there was any need for a year to experiment when this roster is full of known commodities.
Declining value of remaining assets
Although every player on a team-friendly contract, particularly where it’s expiring within a year or two, loses some value each year, the Blazers should be acutely sensitive to this problem. That’s because their inability to draft and develop players over the last three years leaves them with only Nicolas Batum as a productive player on his rookie contract. Despite Elliot Williams oozing potential, there is every chance that lack of opportunities will doom him to bust status, or cause that potential to be fulfilled elsewhere.
As such, there are only two desirable and realistically tradeable (considering LaMarcus Aldridge untouchable) pieces on the roster: Nicolas Batum and Gerald Wallace. If Gerald is not traded by the deadline, the best chance of getting any value in the trade market from either will be hope some team is dumb enough to trade away multiple picks for Batum in a sign and trade to induce the Blazers not to match. Of course the most likely scenario is that the Blazers retain Batum and Gerald signs a rich deal elsewhere while the Blazers do not get value for him.
Additionally, hanging on to both Wallace and Batum prevents the Blazers from optimizing their on-court contributions. Although they can play together some, it’s not optimal. It forces the Blazers to choose offense over rebounding and defense, and should probably be reserved as a situational lineup as opposed to a staple. Those lineups got slaughtered on the defensive glass against the Mavs, for example.
So hanging on to both Nic and Gerald for this “trial season” compromises their on-court value this season and also makes it unlikely that they will receive much value for whichever player they choose to let go (unless Gerald is traded at the deadline, something that’s admittedly quite possible).
Entering the 2012 offseason in a weaker position
Although I’m not one to put much stock in the cliche about acting vs. reacting, the Blazers have put themselves in a position where some pretty important decisions regarding the future of the franchise will be made based on how other teams value their players. They will doubtless attempt to shop Wallace at the trade deadline, but if there’s no real market for an expiring veteran wing, there’s not way the Blazers let him walk for less then two first round picks.
On the other hand, though the Blazers will surely match any reasonable offer, what about an unreasonable one? By going into the offseason with these issues unresolved, there’s a fair chance that the Blazers will feel they “have” to match even a bad offer for Batum. Feeling an obligation to do something is where bad choices happen in the NBA. Of course, if there’s a nice offer for Wallace, this might all be moot.
Losing a year off LaMarcus’s contract
Whether you think LaMarcus Aldridge is a “franchise player” or not, the fact is his contract is one of the very best values for a non-rookie in the NBA. He’s clearly a max-contract level player making about 3 million a year less than that. Though his contract is long, it’s not indefinite. He has three years left on his contract after this one. Unfortunately, the new CBA prevents him from getting a five year extension if he signs before entering free agency. That means the last year will be full of uncertainty unless the team is clearly headed toward contention. I know Aldridge doesn’t seem to be the kind of guy, but there will be a cloud of uncertainty as that final year approaches. The Blazers are using a year of one of the most valuable assets in the NBA, an underpaid near superstar, to figure out where they want to go.
Was there even an experiment here?
So what on first glance appears to be sort of a risk-free flier on this collection of players actually has a series of costs. I’d like to conclude by asking what exactly we were supposed to learn this year? This is exactly the same team that was dismissed fairly easily by the Mavs in last year’s playoffs (check their fairly comfortable MOV). We got worse at point guard, and retained everybody else. None of these players are improving significantly except possibly Batum (whose ceiling we probably saw in his brief 2010 stint). If the purpose of the 2011 offseason was to stay flexible and take a wait-and-see, I’d like to hear what exactly we were supposed to see.CONTINUE WITH POST
Get ready for the Utah Jazz (11-7)!!!
Somehow they have a decent record, I’m not entirely sure how this is possible but it is what it is. Utah is very similar to the Blazers and usually play very well at home.
So who knows what will happen.
Rumors also have it Rhino will not play tonight via Nate’s decision…
What do you think?
Vote it up/talk it up/whatever.
Will the Rhino play?
Total Voters: 4
Please Basketball gods let the Blazers win tonight!
CONTINUE WITH POST
Team Records: Portland (12-8) at Utah (11-7)
Game Info: 6 p.m., TV on CSNNW, radio on 750 AM the Game
Vegas Line: Portland -2
Refs: Ron Garretson, Mark Ayotte, Scott Twardoski
The Skinny: Following an easy blowout win over the Suns last Friday, the Blazers travel to Utah to take on one of the NBA’s surprise teams, the Utah Jazz. The Jazz have gone 10-4 since opening the season 1-3. While some of this is no doubt due to their home-heavy early schedule (they have played 12 home games versus only 7 road games), they are still yet another tough foe in what is fast becoming the NBA’s deepest division.
Last Season: Portland won the season series 3-1. Portland won the last three games the teams played last season, and a win on Monday would tie the record for most consecutive regular season wins by Portland over Utah.
Projected Jazz Lineup:
PF: Paul Millsap (Louisiana Tech, 6th season) – 17.5 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 2 APG
SF: Gordon Hayward (Butler, 2nd season) – 8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.2 APG
C: Derrick Favors (Georgia Tech, 2nd season) – 7.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG, .3 APG
SG: CJ Miles (Skyline (HS), 7th season) – 10.1 PPG, 2 RPG, .9 APG
PG: Devin Harris (Wisconsin, 8th season) – 9.1 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 4.6 APG
Player to Watch: Paul Millsap (pictured at right) – Two years ago Portland signed Paul Millsap to an offer sheet and although Utah matched the offer, it is easy to see why the Blazers wanted him. Millsap is one of the top mid-range shooters in the NBA and can also finish around the rim. Although he can’t create his own shot (nearly all of his attempts are assisted), he still has the ability to get in the right place to catch a pass in perfect scoring position. He is an excellent rebounder and does a good job staying in front of the opposition on defense. Where he struggles, however, is that he does not possess particularly long arms, so he does not block shots and struggles on defense against players with length. Still, Millsap had a career year last year and has shown no signs of regressing this season, sporting a PER of 25.75, good for fourth in the NBA behind only LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant.
Did You Know?: The Jazz are one of only three teams to have never lost 60 games in a season. (The other two are the NY Knicks and the LA Lakers.)
Portland: Out – C Greg Oden (knee)
Utah: Out- SG Raja Bell (Abductor), Doubtful- PF/C Al Jefferson (Ankle).
So, how is Utah doing it? How are they suddenly such a good team? The answer lies in their offense. While the Utah defense holds opponents around 45% shooting and 96 points per game in both wins and losses, their offense is far less consistent. In wins, the Jazz shoot 48.9% from the field and score 100.1 points per game while in losses they shoot only 40.5% from the field and score 92.1 points per game. The secret to this differential is whether the Jazz distribute the ball well on offense or not as they average four more assists per game in wins than losses. As a young team, the Jazz tend to panic when things go poorly and it snowballs, and they do not tend to close games well, being outscored most of the time in the fourth quarter. Still, if the Jazz can build a good lead through three, they can usually hang on and win. They may not be the Jazz of old but they are still a tough bunch to face.
The Bottom Line:
Portland wins if: They make Utah rely on isos on offense. The key to Utah’s offense, especially Millsap’s, is passing. If Portland can force Utah to beat them one-on-one, they will probably be able to walk out with a win.
Utah wins if: They do well from deep. Utah has a bench full of good three-point shooters. If they can take and make a good number of three-pointers, they should be able to end Portland’s streak over them at three.CONTINUE WITH POST
A hallmark of the Nate McMillan offense has been to prevent turnovers and snare as many offensive rebounds. Trading off a potentially higher effective field goal percentage for a more risk averse offense is something that has drawn criticism in the past as a strategy that may not be viable in the playoffs. Although Nate appears to have relented on running an extremely slow-paced offense (the Blazers linger in the top 10 in pace factor this year after years in last place), the other principles of NateBall are very much intact. The Blazers are the third stingiest team in the league with the ball, and are above average in offensive rebound rate.
However, as these aspects have stayed steady, effective field goal percentage (eFG) the most crucial factor in building an offensively efficient club, has tanked. The Blazers rate 21st in the league in eFG, which is the worst among Western teams currently holding a playoff spot. Trying to parse eFG trends is difficult, because it is nearly impossible to distinguish an extended slump from something systemic. Players will go entire years shooting with subpar efficiency for no apparent reason only to rebound as plus contributors the next year. However, because it’s so important I’m not going to chalk up the Blazers shooting woes to a bunch of coincidental slumps: there has to be something more going on.
The shot selection profile is actually pretty good
One thing many inefficient teams have in common is they choose to shoot a lot of long 2s. The most efficient shots in basketball are the slam dunk and the three pointer, and the most efficient teams will shoot a lot of them. Stan van Gundy and George Karl are big proponents of this, which is one reason their teams have efficient offenses.
Believe it or not, the Blazers are 4th in the NBA in at rim attempts, and solidly middle of the pack in 3 point attempts. The have the fifth best shot selection profile in the league. The problem is, the Blazers are not making these shots at anywhere near the league average rate. They are 29th in the league in at-rim FG% and 22nd in 3 point FG%.
Although a number of Blazers are shooting below their career averages at the cup, currently the worst offenders are Wesley Matthews and Jamal Crawford. I never would have pegged Wesley as an excellent finisher, but he shot an excellent 65% there last year, a number which has cratered below 50% this year. Where his true skill level lies isn’t entirely clear, though it should be noted that he’s getting far less feeds around the basket this year. Maybe it’s Wesley who misses Andre’s dimes, not LaMarcus?
Jamal has always been pretty shaky in this area, fluctuating from the mid 60s to the mid 40s from year to year. This year he’s unsurprisingly around 50%. Even Gimpy Brandon Roy was better than these guys at shooting layups.
The answer for three point shooting is probably a bit simpler: the Blazers just do not have a lot of good three point shooters, and the “streaky” shooters they have (Felton and Wallace) have not been firing at the moment. Essentially these issues are troubling, but there isn’t a lot to do except wait out these shooting slumps, or get more efficient players.
As a parting shot, let me suggest a guy who can get his own shot, has an excellent shot selection profile and is eminently available.CONTINUE WITH POST
Against the Phoenix Suns, the story of the Portland Trail Blazers convincing win wasn’t the 58 rebounds grabbed or 28 assists distributed. It wasn’t the terrific individual performances of LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby, Wesley Matthews, Gerald Wallace, or Jamal Crawford, either. Elliot Williams, in his eight minutes, stole the show.
Williams, a 6’5″ 22-year-old guard out of Memphis, was selected 22nd overall by the Blazers in the 2010 NBA Draft. Considering his makeup and success in college, the expectations were high. Portland would have to wait to see what he could do, however, as a right knee injury caused him to miss his entire rookie season. He recovered from surgery and entered this season healthy, but the team was still waiting. This time, injury wasn’t the reason. He was ready to make an impact, but no minutes were for the taking, so he just sat on the bench. Nate McMillan’s rotation has been short and a logjam at both guard positions hasn’t help matters. As a result, he entered the Blazers game against the Suns with nine points in 19 minutes this season.
Considering Portland has proven veterans playing point guard and shooting guard, it is difficult to see Williams getting consistent playing time this season. Though this is the reality of his situation, his play had some fans clamoring for an increased role.
A Blazers win was well in hand when Williams entered with eight minutes and 37 seconds left in the fourth. He wasted little time in an effort to contribute. At first, he wasn’t successful, missing a step-back 19-footer a minute into his outing and then a layup moments later. The overwhelming desire was there to prove himself, and by the end of the 109-71 victory he had done that. It was a small sample against the Suns bench, but what ensued after these two misses had the Rose Garden in a frenzy.
In transition, with Portland up 91-57, he made a smooth step-back mid-range jumper. His follow-through was reminiscent of that of Michael Redd, who was sitting nearby on the Suns bench. Effortless if a bit unorthodox, it let to nothing but net. The crowd roared, knowing how rarely they get to see Williams play, let alone see him score. He wasn’t finished.
Three minutes later, Craig “Rhino” Smith stole the ball from Shannon Brown and heaved the ball to a streaking Chris Johnson. The lanky power forward, who like Williams hardly ever plays, could have flown in for a dunk. Instead, Williams came in at full, blistering speed from the left wing, received a pass in stride, and used some of his reported 46-inch vertical for a thunderous dunk.
On Portland’s next possession, he made another step-back jumper, and minutes later he swooped in and slammed home a Nolan Smith miss as it cascaded off the rim. He came in out of nowhere from the baseline and just took off. It was a thing of beauty, and these were his seventh and eighth points. In all, he took eight shots, made four, and even blocked Sebastian Telfair’s layup attempt. He was bounding up and down the court, with a spring in his step, beaming with confidence. He was pumped up on adrenaline, and so happy to play in more than just practice. He looked ready for the NBA.
That may be the case, but unless the Blazers keep blowing out opponents, which isn’t likely, Williams will head back to the bench. He will no doubt look on and see Wesley Matthews, Jamal Crawford, and Raymond Felton ahead of him, as McMillan isn’t about to adjust his roster and take minutes from serviceable veterans because of eight minutes of excellence against the Suns reserves in a blowout win. But, for the first time, Williams was able to give Portland a glimpse of what the future holds when a consistent opportunity knocks. And when he does get that chance, when his extraordinary talent is on the floor in more meaningful situations, look out.CONTINUE WITH POST