Good morning, Blazers fans. Antonio here.
The Blazers’ national TV matchup against the Rockets last night felt eerily familiar. An early blown lead. Injuries devastating the team. A failed comeback attempt leading to a heartbreaking single-digit loss. Yes, this felt like a game straight out of the 2019-20 season.
Thankfully, this is not last year. The Blazers are a bit different this time around, with one glaring advantage: depth. This team may not be full strength, but it’s pretty dang talented still. Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent are proof of that. Let’s take a look at some other takeaways from last night’s game.
Houston’s Offensive Rebounding
When the Blazers jumped out to a 20-point lead early on against the Rockets, their defense was locking down shooters and causing misses. Up 30-10 and with Houston sharpshooters still throwing up bricks, Portland should have been able to coast a bit. However, offensive rebounds kept the Rockets inching closer.
It wasn’t that the Rockets significantly outrebounded the Blazers. They didn’t. It was how significant the offensive rebounds were. Four in the first quarter kept Houston within striking distance, and one huge offensive board by P.J Tucker with 38 seconds left led to a Victor Oladipo layup. Clutch time offensive boards have always been a problem for the Blazers, and it came back to bite them again.
The last three possessions of last night’s game went like this: Gary Trent missed layup, Anfernee Simons made three, Anfernee Simons missed three. Notice anyone missing from these big-time shots?
The Rockets made sure that Damian Lillard would not get an opportunity to get off the final shot during these last possessions. After a 13 point first quarter, the Rockets turned up the heat in the next three periods.
Showing shades of the Lakers and Pelicans playoff series, they blitzed Dame during the final quarters, and especially during crunch time. Lillard wasn’t able to get a good look during those final possessions, even passing up a contested shot late in the game.
The Christian Wood Problem
In his two games against Portland, Christian Wood is averaging 27 points, 13 rebounds, and 65% shooting against the Blazers. The 2021 Most Improved Player candidate is playing well against everybody, but is torching the Blazers so far.
Wood represents one of Portland’s biggest weaknesses: a nimble big man with a soft driving touch. Wood tore up Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter in both games, finishing effectively on his iso drives.
Players like Wood and Anthony Davis have always been able to give Portland’s defense trouble, and Terry Stotts and his coaches have not been able to figure it out yet.
The second that Anfernee Simons’ three airballed its way to a second consecutive Blazers loss, I thought to myself about how tough it was for the Blazers to sneak into the playoffs last year. This year, they’ll be aided by the new 7-10 seed play-in games.
This team may be injured. It may be hurting. But this is why Neil Olshey spent this offseason acquiring depth. In a season like no other, the Blazers have the depth they needed in prior seasons. Let’s hope that they can learn from the mistakes from the years before.