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Blazers’ Corner: Defense Improving, Lillard Shooting Better, Former Blazer Felton Arrested

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Raymond Felton Appears Unapologetic Following Arrest

Former Blazers guard Raymond Felton was arrested early Tuesday and charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree and criminal possession of a firearm after his wife turned in a loaded semi-automatic handgun to a local precinct.  She made the decision because she no longer wanted the gun in their home.

Felton returned to practice with the New York Knicks on Wednesday and addressed the media.  In less than a minute, not only did he not take any questions regarding the arrest, but he also thanked his family, friends and teammates for their support and insisted the felony weapons charges was “not a distraction” to the team.

Raymon Felton - AP-Darron Cummings
Raymond Felton likes to blame everyone but himself for his troubles on and off the court. | (AP / Darron Cummings) 

He’s probably right about the distraction part (that team is a mess either way), but for him to not apologize or feel contrite in any way regarding the matter is yet another example of how little Felton gets it.

Of course Blazers fans will remember (or choose to forget), Felton’s lone season with the team as one of the worst high-profile pickups in recent memory and it wasn’t for anything he did off the court.

Joining a promising Portland team that included LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, Gerald Wallace, Marcus Camby and Jamal Crawford, Felton was thought to be the point guard of the future.  Instead he came into training camp out of shape which greatly affected his and the team’s performance for the first quarter of the season.

Add to that every dribble off the foot, every turnover after a failed split of the double team, every awkward-looking floater and missed wide-open shot as well as blaming everyone (fans, Nate McMillan) but yourself about your poor play and by the end of the season, anyone who followed the Blazers had a pretty good idea of what kind of a person Raymond Felton was.

Watching the short clip of Felton on Wednesday where he appeared to be annoyed at the very thought of having his character questioned or the fact that he was speaking for everyone in the Knicks organization by saying his arrest wasn’t a distraction, it reminded me and probably a lot of fans of just how little he seems to care about anyone but himself.

His time in Portland was short-lived and based on this incident and his play with the Knicks this season (10.4 PPG, 40 percent shooting, 29 percent 3-point shooting), which is worse than his season with the Blazers, it’s safe to say he will be looking for yet another home in the NBA next year.

Portland Suddenly Playing Better Defense

With the loss of Aldridge, as well as the majority of the team’s frontline due to injury, the thought was that Portland’s defense would not only continue to be mediocre, but that it would get worse.  But during the team’s current four-game winning streak, they’ve held all four opponents below 100 points.  That’s a first this season.  So how are they doing it?

First of all, they’re giving a better effort which is half the battle.  In the last three wins, Portland has held each opponent under 40 percent shooting.  Guys are contesting shots better, anticipating double-teams and switching faster and Robin Lopez has decided to host a “Block Party” in the paint on a nightly basis.

Robin Lopez Blocking - therichest.com
Robin Lopez has been a shot-blocking machine this season. | (therichest.com)

Another area the Blazers are thriving in is forcing turnovers which turn into fast break points.  Forced to play smaller lineups with all the injuries, players like Mo Williams, Will Barton and Batum are leaking out on missed shots resulting in at least 19 fast break points in each of their last three games.  They know they give up a lot of points in the paint, so they’re creating easy buckets in transition to counter that.

Portland also may have found a specific lineup that consistently plays defense.  Victor Claver in particular has been a bright spot defensively.  He might be the worst-shooting European player I’ve ever seen, but he’s an intelligent basketball player who can guard multiple positions.  Pairing him with Lopez and wing players who are active and cause deflections and get in passing lanes has been an effective unit.  It’s a small sample, but still encouraging as the season winds down and the team prepares for the playoffs.

Damian Lillard Shooting On the Rise

In the absence of Aldridge, Damian Lillard has become the first option and despite an increase in shot attempts, Lillard has shot the ball considerably better.  Averaging 19 attempts, the young point guard is shooting 51 percent from the floor and a big reason for that is his sudden improvement in finishing at the rim.

Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard’s scoring inside is steadily improving. | (nba.com)

In the past, Lillard has driven to the basket and instead of simply shooting, he’s tried to force fouls by drawing contact which has resulted in countless missed and blocked shots.  For the majority of the season, he shot 38-40 percent in the paint which is terrible.  But for the month of February he’s shooting 48 percent overall and 45 percent in the paint which is still below average, but still better than where he was.

He’s always been a great shooter, but when the outside shot hasn’t been there, he’s made a conscience effort to attack the rim and that’s worked for him all month.

 

 

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