Portland Needs Improvement
A multi-story version of a Fathead of Brandon Roy still lingers on glass windows of the Rose Garden Arena. It is a towering reminder of what was supposed to be in the Portland Trail Blazers‘ future and a cruel reminder of a lousy present.
Portland arrived at the all-star break at 17-17, and have more questions than answers. Nate McMillan is not one of them.
The head coach is the first topic of the Trail Blazers progress report.
Coach Nate McMillan
My thoughts on McMillan have been well documented on NWSB. Fans want McMillan to make Maverick results out of Timberwolf talent and I think it is unrealistic. Nobody will agree 100 percent with a coaches decisions, and my hang-ups with him in the past have been the refusal to ride the hot hand.
I would love to see him with point guards he likes and a consistent roster, both of which he has not had in his seven years as Portland coach.
Top Three Developments to like about the Trail Blazers
Portland’s erratic play has been reminiscent of a heart monitor with someone in stable condition. There are ups and downs, but they are consistent and almost predictable. That’s been the Blazers. Nobody in their right minds expects them to win four in a row, but nobody will expect them to completely tank the season altogether.
There are three reasons for Blazers fans to be optimistic heading into the second half of the NBA season
1. Unlike NWSB Vancouver Canucks writer C-Mac, there is nothing for Blazers fans to like about this year, but there are reasons to be optimistic. Despite their loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night, the team still sits at the eight-seed in the Western Conference playoff race.
If the team can put together a consistent stretch of basketball, they can reach the third-seed Los Angeles Clippers in a hurry.
They are only three games back.
2. The starting of Jamal Crawford at point guard has produced better play at the position, as Raymond Felton has seen his starting position disappear and his minutes decline due to a poor first-half of the season. The position is not solved completely, but if Crawford can be the spark plug of instant offense that he has been known for throughout his entire career at point instead of shooting guard, Blazermanics have some hope for better production.
3. Portland has not played its best basketball at any point in the season. That’s good news because most teams want to begin peaking in April if they have their choice. A good March could put them on the road to an even better April.
Top Three Concerns about the Trail Blazers
1. What Portland team will show up down the stretch?
Will it be the squad that defeated Oklahoma City on the road earlier in the season or the squad that lost to the Washington Generals, I mean Wizards, at the Rose Garden in February.
2. Can Felton salvage a dismal first half?
His shooting is atrocious at 37.7 percent from the field and 24.8 percent behind the arc. Felton couldn’t hit the Atlantic Ocean from the Titanic in the first half.
3. Will Chad Buchanan make a move to shake up Rip City?
As I have said time and again, this team is in the danger zone of average. Joel Przybilla is not the Blockbuster that improves team outlooks.
Top Point Guard: Inconclusive. Jamal Crawford doesn’t play point guard, both Nolan Smith and Elliot Williams don’t have a big enough sample size for me to give them an adequate grade. If I am giving out a letter grade to the starter, Raymond Felton, I would give him a D+. The C typically represents average and I don’t think he is in the top-15 starters out of 30 teams in his position in the NBA.
Top Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge. The sixth-year power forward out of Texas is averaging a career-high 22.3 ppg and earned his first all-star appearance last Sunday in Orlando. He also scored an appearance on the television show “Portlandia.” His cameo appearance was better than Felton’s trying to impersonate a point guard in the first half of the season. Aldridge has arrived.
Top Center: Marcus Camby. Affectionately called “Marcus in the Middle” by Blazers public address announcer Mark Mason, Camby has consistently played the type of defense that has become the hallmark of the former NBA Defensive Player of the Year’s career. Camby, 37, is averaging 9.5 points and 1.5 blocks per game this season.
Top Bench Player: Nicolas Batum. McMillan has been changing his lineups ad nauseum this year so this one is a toss-up. Nobody stands out, but Nicolas Batumhas had some top-tier performances as of late, notably a 33-point outburst against Denver in early February. As a result, Batum could be leaving the bench.
Biggest Surprise: Kurt Thomas. This one isn’t even close. The 40 year-old center from Texas Christian was signed as a free agent shortly before the season started and has provided quality minutes with Camby on the bench. His 15 foot jumper is as good as any center in the NBA. He is no longer capable of 20 point explosions, but his rebounding and defensive prowess is still sorely needed on a fragile front line.
The Blazers need some minor tweaks and some luck if they hope to make the playoffs and so anything but show up while they are there. The March 15th trade deadline is approaching in two weeks and Buchanan has not announced whether any moves will be made before it passes.
Local media has thrown Steve Nash as a possibility, but unless his BFF Dirk Nowitzki is coming with him, Portland will not be contending in the West.
At any rate, the team must get consistent production from everyone not named LaMarcus Aldridge and they better hope that all of the Icy Hot will act as an injury bug repellent.
An injury to Aldridge could leave this team dead in the water.
While his image still lingers outside the Rose Garden Arena, one thing is clear: Brandon Roy isn’t walking through those doors.
If the Blazers are to make it a March and April to remember, they must come together with the team that they have.
Otherwise, Aldridge may be representing them in Secaucus, N.J. at the NBA Draft Lottery this Spring.