Since my most recent Blazer update, Portland has split its last six games and sits at 23-15, just two losses behind Denver for the division lead. One trend that is becoming clearer with each game is that Nate McMillan definitely wants to keep the pace down, especially playing with a thin bench. Portland has averaged about 93.5 possessions per game over the course of the entire season, but just 91 possessions since Przybilla went down. The Blazers are the slowest team in the league, and to put things into context, the next slowest teams are Detroit and Miami, who sit at 94.5 and 96.0, respectively.
Is the slow pace a good thing? It seems to be! Since Joel’s season-ending injury nine games ago, Portland is scoring nearly 1.1 points per possession, a figure that translates into 108 points per game (at an average pace) and matches the Suns for league-leading offensive efficiency. So why aren’t they leading the division? Defense.
Portland’s defensive efficiency was best in the league—allowing the least points per possession—before its two centers went down with injuries. Since then, the Blazer defense has allowed teams to score at will, with an efficiency (or lack thereof) that matches the league’s worst, Toronto. After losing two of the better shot blockers in the league, Portland went from allowing one of the league’s lowest opponents’ field goal percentages, to being merely at the league average. Quite a plunge for only 9 games.
Fortunately the offense has continued to pick up the slack for the undersized defense. If the Blazers can maintain their current levels of offensive and defensive efficiency, they should finish 25-19 over the last 44 games, give or take four wins. This likely gets them the 6th seed come playoff time, with the 4-seed being a best-case scenario, yet missing the playoffs still being a real possibility.
I thought a couple weeks ago that the 7th or 8th seed would be an optimistic prediction for these injury-ridden Blazers, but the last couple weeks have shown me that they can still compete at a high level, and the numbers support that. There are still a lot of games to be played, so enjoy!