The Blazers have now played 26 games this season, a season that has seen quite a few ups and downs and an injury list that includes Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, Greg Oden and Travis Outlaw. At the time of my last Blazers update, Portland was 10-5 with one of the most efficient defenses in the league. Since that point, the Blazers have gone 5-6 and now find themselves with a 15-11 record. While Rip City has stayed afloat, barely, things appear pretty bleak compared to what Blazer fans were hoping for to start the season. Anyone watching the string of losses to Memphis, Utah and Miami saw a Blazer defense that gave up whatever the other team wanted, leading to a field goal percentage against of more than 55%.
The Blazers are still averaging more points per possession than the league standard, and are still fifth in defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession), but those numbers have been getting steadily worse since the recent injuries to Rudy and Oden. In the six games played without those two key pieces, Portland’s offense has performed worse than the league average, and its defense has been right about at the league average. At this pace, Portland would finish the season right about 42-40, likely not good enough for a playoff spot in the competitive Western Conference.
Portland has continued to play at slow pace, which is likely best suited for its chemistry, but there’s no reason to believe they can’t compete at a faster pace. In medium to fast-paced games, the Blazers are 3-1 this season with a scoring margin of +7.25 points per game. Portland’s offensive and defensive points per possession during those four faster games match what the team was averaging at its peak earlier this season. So again, this team has shown that it can play faster, and play well, if need be.
However, barring a trade or some magical increase in efficiency, I don’t see this team doing any better than an 8 seed, maybe a 7, come season’s end. And that’s the generous side of things…