Team Passing Every Test
What separates a good team from a great team is one that can not only play their own style to win, but one that can adjust on the fly when what they normally do isn’t working. The last two victories over the Pacers and Thunder are a prime example of Portland beginning to transition from being “a good little team,” to a legitimate threat in the Western Conference.
Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews said it best following the team’s win over Oklahoma City. “We played two different style teams — a rugged one with Indiana, and another up-paced team with OKC,” Matthews said. We are able to rise to the occasion.”
Perhaps the sign of a great team is one that can dictate the pace, but whether or not Portland is ready for that is beside the point. They are winning regardless of the style, whether that’s slow grind-it-out performances over Phoenix and Chicago last month and on Monday night against Indiana or in a more fast-paced game against the Warriors, Knicks or Thunder.
They would prefer the ladder, but as Charles Barkley likes to say, “you live by the jump-shot and you die by the jump-shot.” But Portland has won six of their last seven by shooting under 45 percent and have been consistently dominated in points in the paint.
So why do they keep winning? There’s a number of factors. For one, LaMarcus Aldridge is playing the best basketball of his career. We’re just 19 games in and he’s already won a Player of the Week honor, put up a 30 and 20 game and become the first player this season to record at least 38 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists and 0 turnovers in the win against the Thunder.
While his overall shooting percentage is down a bit, it feels like any turnaround jump-shot or elbow jumper he takes is going in. He’s also rebounding at a higher rate averaging 10 rebounds. In fact, when he grabs at least 6 boards, the Blazers are 16-0 and when he doesn’t they’re 0-3. When your best player is having a career-year, the team is going to win a lot of games.
Another factor is the presence of Robin Lopez in the middle with the key word being “presence.” He’s not the fastest big-man or the most athletic, but he’s at the very least a seven-footer who can grab 8-10 rebounds, block or affect numerous shots and possess a halfway decent offensive game that keeps the defense honest.
Perhaps the biggest factor is that the team is slowly beginning to improve on the defensive end. Ranking 16th in opponents points-per-game according to nba.com, coach Stotts decided to implement a new defensive philosophy where the big-man sags off the perimeter player rather than go over the screen to help with the guard. This means more emphasis on protecting the paint and while they are consistently being outscored down low, that’s more of a product of the offense focusing more on the perimeter.
There’s certainly room for improvement on the defensive end, particularly in guard penetration, but for now the team is holding its own on that end of the floor. Maybe with time, the team can creep toward the top 10 in overall defense because at this point, it’s the only factor holding them back from being a true contender.
Terry Stotts Wins NBA Coach of the Month Award
When you coach your team to an 11-game winning streak in one calender month, there’s a good chance you’re going to get some recognition for it. Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts was indeed recognized for his great work in leading Portland to a 13-3 record in the month of November when he was named the Western Conference Coach of the Month by the NBA on Monday.
Tied for the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history, the run included impressive victories over Denver, San Antonio, Chicago and Golden State. They also went 7-1 on the road with the only loss coming to those suddenly pesky Phoenix Suns.
Stotts becomes the sixth Blazers coach to win a Coach of the Month award, joining Jack Ramsay, Mike Schuler, Rick Adelman, Mike Dunleavy and Nate McMillan. When asked about receiving the award, Stotts was quite humble and quick to credit those around him for the achievement.
“It feels good, but more than anything else, with awards like this, it’s a team award,” Stotts said. “Player of the month, those guys are making the baskets. But when you win an award like this, the players did a great job this month, my staff did a great job, we stayed healthy because of our health and performance department. So this is definitely a team award.”
The team’s early success was mostly attributed to a soft schedule, but with back-to-back home wins against two title contenders (Indiana, Oklahoma City), Portland is answering every critic with resounding playoff-like performances.
Following the team’s win over OKC, Aldridge credited Stotts with allowing the players the freedom to play loose on offense and not “abusing” that freedom according to Aldridge.
So far Stotts’ is getting through to his players and the results have been phenomenal to say the least. If this continues, Stotts will most certainly be in contention for Coach of the Year.