For the playoff edition of the Inside Skinny, we figured we’d give you our scouting report on the Portland Blazers and how they do what they do. First off, here are a few nuggets about their team identity as a whole.
While they’re last in the league in PACE (average possessions per game), they’re 10th when it comes to offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions). Then factor in that they’re third in the league in Offensive Rebound Rate -- percentage of available offensive rebounds grabbed -- as well as a low turnover team.
And, finally, you take note that they’re fifth in Defensive Plays Rate (steals, blocks and charges per 100 possessions) and you can see how Portland is able to force opponents into playing the type of game they want -- a tough, grind-it-out-and-don’t-make-mistakes affair.
Aiight, I’m done nerding out. Here’s the eyeball stuff.
Mr. LaMarcus Aldridge -- you grows up, you grows up and you grows up. The skinny kid from Seagoville did damage this year, and he has absolutely had his way with the Mavs in all four meetings. He came to Dallas and dropped 35 in a loss on Dec. 15. It was the real jump-off point for a huge season in which he’s posted career highs in points, rebounds and assists.
But the real significance of that date: Brandon Roy was put on the shelf after that game. Roy played 30 sad minutes that night, taking only five shots. He wouldn’t play again for two months and, in the time that he was gone, Aldridge staked claim to the team. He is now their main threat. Roy is a dominate-the-ball type, as is point guard Andre Miller. When those two were on the floor together, Aldridge was left to dig for scraps. Now he’s the focal point and he’s really blossomed in the paint with an assortment of moves and a soft touch. He’s solid out to 18 feet, too.
But the most memorable Aldridge moment for me was in the final contest vs. the Mavs when he backed down Brendan Haywood on the right block, treating Haywood like he was Shawn Bradley. He leaned back towards the middle of the lane before drop-stepping baseline side and flipping a feathery shot over his left shoulder. It was monstrous. The ease with which he moved the bigger Haywood and the skill to finish the move was at a level that only a handful of posts in the league are able to sniff. That boy is good.
When I saw Portland’s Defensive Play Rate, I couldn’t help but think of their three long defensive specialists in Nic Batum, old-man Marcus Camby and February trade acquisition Gerald Wallace (aka, “I was burnt out in Charlotte”). The first time that Portland played Dallas with Wallace in the lineup, I thought he looked like the same “floater” I’d see in Charlotte who didn’t involve himself in games with the intensity that a player of his immense talents should. When we saw him again on April 3, I thought he was fantastic. He used his length and athleticism to cause havoc and create opps for the Blazers. Camby is a savvy defensive player and rebounder, and Batum helps spread the floor with his range and can be a really sticky on-the-ball hawk.
What a coup Wesley Matthews ended up being. Some ripped Portland for giving Matthews their full mid-level exception. I’d say he saved their season filling in for Roy at the two and emerging as their second-leading scorer, best 3-point shooter and a rugged defender bothering opposing team’s shooting guards. One of the real value players in the league without question.
The sad story of Roy’s struggles with knee pain has been well-chronicled. He’s often used in a backup distributor role now, but can still take over a game when his body cooperates as his 21-point performance against the Mavs back in March will support. He’s a guy who can hit some big-time shots. Rudy Fernandez also is a guy capable of hitting some ridiculously tough shots. Though it wouldn’t shock me if he tried to bounce a ball in the basket off his head. He gives off a wacky juggler vibe. I think he’d be an awesome Globetrotter.
Andre Miller has played his entire career feeling underappreciated and disrespected. Remember when he hung half a C-note on Dallas last year? Yes, he does too.
This has the makings of a fantastic series. I'll be curious to see if the ridiculously underrated Nate McMillan is tempted to roll out the smaller Aldridge at center and Batum and Wallace at the 3 and 4 slots. McMillan used that lineup at times down the stretch, including vs. the Mavs on March 15. It forces Dirk to cover a much quicker player; then again, the Blazers have to cover Dirk, too. I’d think Portland’s size advantage in the backcourt -- which was used to great effect in that final route in Portland -- will be negated this time around with DeShawn Stevenson and Corey Brewer more in the mix.
Lots of delicious matchup potential. I can’t wait to see it unfold starting Saturday night in the Dub -- Uptown Saturday Night style.