April 10, 2009
OK, Lakers. I talked a big game about you this morning, let's see how you do a day later, against the kids, in their playground. I am not enjoying the direction that this analogy is moving in, so I'm moving on.
The Lakers and Trail Blazers have met three times this season, with each team winning handily at home. Tonight's run will take place in Portland, and even for the league's freshest legs, heading from Orange County to Oregon in 24 hours is no picnic. 23 hours, really. For a veteran Laker squad, working without Phil Jackson (passing on this trip due to leg discomfort), it should be a big test.
Portland's been at the top of the heap in offensive efficiency for a few weeks now, the Lakers held that spot for most of the season until mid-March before declining a bit, though the team's defense has improved considerably even with Andrew Bynum on the pine. With the burly 7-footer back, however, things should get even better.
You can't say the same for Portland's defense, which has improved slightly over the last two weeks, but has been ranked at about the same place since December.
The interesting thing to me is that the closest comparison I have for the Trail Blazers at this point is the first two years of the Steve Nash, SSOL-Suns, who were tops in offense but a little below the middle of the pack defensively. Of course, because few mainstream scribes bother to learn about pace, we continually heard about how the Suns' defense was pitiful, when in fact it was merely barely below-average. The team's fast pace obscured things.
This time around, because the Trail Blazers are the slowest team in the NBA, we never hear about this team's amazing offense. It truly is a marvel to watch, not unlike Nate McMillan's final turn as SuperSonics head coach, when his slow-paced Seattle team was ranked just in back of the Suns and Heat for the best offense in the NBA.
And yet, from the most possessions per game in the NBA, to the fewest, the Suns and Trail Blazers are working at about the same rate. The good thing for Portland fans? They can improve. Steve Nash wasn't getting any quicker (we see that this year, as the Suns drop to 26th in D) on defense, but the Trail Blazer kids can get it together on that end, while sustaining that offense.
Enjoy the weekend, and feel free to comment away on the 26 games from here until Sunday night.
Los Angeles Lakers: 63-16, 94.4 possessions per game (5th), 112.8 points scored per 100 possessions (3rd), 104.7 points allowed per 100 possessions (6th).
Portland Trail Blazers: 50-28, 86.5 possessions per game (30th), 113.8 points scored per 100 possessions (1st), 108.6 points allowed per 100 possessions (17th).