Since the All-Star break has ended, the Blazers have been on a tough road as they head toward the playoffs. They started off with a seven-game East Coast trip that saw them go 5-2 before returning home to split a set with the Thunder and the Suns. I hope the guys are resting up their legs at home before they head back out on the road for another three games. Two of the three are going to come against potential first-round playoff opponents.
The three games this week are crucial for the Blazers as they head into the playoffs. In fact, their final sixteen games are crucial to their playoff standing. The Blazers are 0-4 against Oklahoma City this year, and as it stands right now, the Blazers would be going to OKC in a potential Game 7 against the Thunder.
Where the Blazers need to be is the third seed. A seed that is currently occupied by the red hot Houston Rockets. The Blazers are only a half game out of that third seed and only three-and-a-half games out of the second seed. The second seed is a little distant at the moment and probably not enough time to move up to that spot. Things can happen, but probably not.
One thing that for sure needs to happen is the Blazers need to learn how to close out opponents again. The Blazers have had leads in their last five games and they are only 2-3 in those games. They almost lost what seemed like an insurmountable lead Saturday night against the lowly Suns. On Thursday night, they could not close out the Thunder, and let’s not talk about having that sixteen-point lead against the Grizzlies a week ago.
The Blazers really need Jake Layman to find his three-point shot, and Terry Stotts needs to find a way to keep Enes Kanter out of pick and roll situations. Maybe it is time for Stotts to start playing Zach Collins more.
Ten days ago, I would might have thought the Blazers could easily win all three games. After the last week and the hard time the Blazers have had keeping leads going, 2-1 seems more likely and it would not shock me if the Blazers went 1-2 on this trip.
Let’s look at the opponents.
LA Clippers | Tuesday at 7:30 PM
The Blazers start off the road trip in Staples Center against the team from Los Angeles that many thought would not be in the playoffs. The Clippers are winners of their last four, and after what some thought was a move to start pursuing a higher draft, are playing some of their best basketball of the year.
Lou Williams has been torching nets and melting rims over the last week. On Saturday night, Williams single-handedly beat the Thunder and has been averaging almost 27 points a night over the last week. With how poorly the Blazers bench unit has been playing over the last five games, this could cause some issues. Especially if Doc Rivers decides to put Williams and Harrell in pick and roll action against Kanter.
Then how well can Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum score against one of the most devastating defensive backcourts in all of the NBA, Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley? Dame and CJ have had fits this year not being able to score for stretches of times. Bev and Bradley do not make scoring easy.
A saving grace for this is while Portland is at home the Clippers have to play a Celtics team that is starting to play some really good basketball. Portland should hope that the game isn’t a blowout in one direction or another.
New Orleans Pelicans | Friday at 5:00 PM
After a couple more days off, the Blazers head down to NoLa to play a bipolar Pelicans team. Will Anthony Davis play? The Pelicans seem to play better when he is out of the lineup now. The Pels are too Jekyll and Hyde right now to predict what is going to happen. I watch a lot of Pelican games and you honestly don’t know what Pelican team you are going to get minute to minute this year.
This is a game where the Blazers bench can really shine. The Pelicans are not a deep team and this should be a great opportunity for Layman, Kanter, Hood, and Curry to get back on track.
The Blazers need to look to put the Pelicans away early and keep them away because this is the first night of a back to back.
San Antonio Spurs | Saturday at 5:30 PM
The next night the Blazers finish against the San Antonio Spurs. The Blazers have been able to score 120 against the Spurs twice this season already, both wins. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are a great one-two punch, but that’s about all the Spurs have had this year. Sometimes Rudy Gay shows up and sometimes you totally forget that he’s in the NBA.
The Spurs are really missing Seattle native Dejounte Murray (injury) and Tony Parker (left in free agency) this season. There are times when the Spurs don’t get into proper sets and that is very unusual for a Gregg Popovich coached team.
The Spurs are sitting eighth in the West at the moment and are always dangerous because Pop can out coach anyone in the NBA. You know Pop is looking at ways to take advantage of Portland’s bench unit.