I mentioned last week that it is hard to tell how the Blazers will manage without a completely healthy Roy, and now they will be without center Greg Oden for the rest of the season. While it would be ridiculous to argue that the Blazers are as good without Brandon Roy and Greg Oden, I now think that they could be the 5th or 6th-best in this conference. Last night Portland hosted Northwest Division rival Denver, winning 86-83, and despite some ugly parts, there were glimmers of a team that could still make some noise in the playoffs.
Last night was a good example of why I think the Blazers are still a top 5 team in the conference. Offensively, the Trailblazer’s shooting display was atrocious. The Blazers shot 40% from the floor and 50% from the line. 50%!?!?! But here’s the thing: they won. Luckily, the Nuggets struggled to match the Blazer’s torrid scoring pace, finishing at 38.5% on field goals, and thus far the game looks pretty even statistically. Besides free throw percentages, the field goal percentages were roughly equal, and the scoreboard shows us that either team could have won if a few things went differently. But the Blazers dominated just about every other relevant facet of the game. Thanks to an offensive rebounding edge of +9 and five less turnovers, Portland got 20 more shots up than Denver and just four less free throws. If both teams had shot their season percentages, and all else remained the same, Portland wins 101 – 86.
Some nights everything they throw up goes in, and other nights there’s a lid on the basket, but if the Blazers can consistently limit turnovers and hit the glass hard, they will win some games shooting 40% from the floor and 50% from the line. That’s what separates the Blazers from an average NBA team. Portland currently ranks 4th in the NBA in offensive rebounding rate, 9th in turnover rate, and 2nd when those stats are combined. This isn’t the only recipe for success, but it’s the one the Blazers have latched onto.
In terms of covering for Oden, Camby is still hanging out in the middle of the key being the best defensive center in the game. So that’s cool. And I’m liking what I see from Batum and Matthews on both sides of the floor. The combination of a quick, strong Matthews and long-armed, lanky Batum guarding prolific scorers has turned out well so far. Kobe Bryant, Carmello Anthony, and Kevin Durant (times 2) have finished just 32 for 71 as a group from the floor (45.1%), with only 6.75 free throw attempts per game (those three average a weighted 8.1 attempts per game). This may not be a significant drop from their normal production, but we’re not getting torched by the best offensive players in the league. The word “containment” comes to mind.
Offensively, Matthews and Batum have both stepped into scoring roles this season. Matthews has the body type of fellow Golden Eagle Dwayne Wade, allowing him to finish well at the hoop and take some contact. (In fact, Matthews is listed at 6’5″, 220, and Wade at 6’4″, 220). His three-point shot might be coming around, too. Last season in Utah, Matthews shot 38% from deep, and in his last two games as a starter he’s gone 8/16. And I’m not trying to say that Matthews will ever be the scorer that Wade is, but his slash first mentality complements Batum’s perimeter game (23/62 from three, 37%) quite nicely. Additionally, both are good rebounders for their positions, especially Matthews (6.0 rebounds last 3 games).
Having Roy and Oden would be just peachy, but the Blazers are a good team right now. I have enjoyed watching the growth of Batum and Matthews (combined age:45), and I think I yelled at Aldridge less than ever last night. If he goes after rebounds like he did against the Nuggets, this will be the best offensive rebounding team in the league, and the Blazers will win more ugly games than they lose.