Come playoff time, there will doubtless be a segment of Portland fans that will bemoan the second-half downfall of their team. As Lillard “fatigues” and as the bench shows its true colors, the Blazers will start to unravel and the surprising first-half .500 mark won’t seem so surprising. At least not when they finish somewhere around 34 wins. Why does this seem like such an inevitability?
Two gigantic road trips at inopportune times
The Blazers have to spend two weeks playing the likes of Miami, Utah, Minnesota, LA, Memphis, San Antonio, Chicago, and Oklahoma City during road trips in February and March. The Blazers are already .350 on the road during the first half of the year and that’s with everyone (mostly) healthy and without having much film to study on how Stotts’ offense works or Lillard’s tendencies. Having to play good teams on the road? It’s going to be miserable.
The home games aren’t any easier
Portland doesn’t get to play Sacramento eleventy times like they did in December. I could name all the good teams the Blazers are going to play at home in the second half of the season but instead I’m going to pick out the three games against bad teams: Houston, Detroit, and Phoenix. That’s it. The Rose Garden is a tough place to play, but even then the Blazers are on a three-game home losing streak.
Stotts will rest some starters
Playing your starters lots of minutes is great, except when you realize that 82 games is a really, really long season. You and I can’t even play pickup basketball two nights in a row, and these guys are playing 38+ minutes a night for seven months. Sooner or later, Stotts is going to have to give Lillard and Batum some rest, and I suspect it will be on those road stretches where they’re going to be overmatched anyway.
Teams will have some film on Portland
It takes teams a while to adjust, to learn their own system, and then prep for their opponents. It helped the Blazers that no one knew how good Damian Lillard was or exactly how Stotts was going to use LaMarcus Aldridge in his offense (including Stotts, as LMA’s role has evolved over the course of 40 games). You can’t stop great players, and both Lillard and Aldridge will get theirs. But I will look for Lillard to struggle as he has to make adjustments to his game as teams start to defensively remove his favorite options.
This is a good thing
Because Portland owes a first rounder to Charlotte this year unless they make they bomb the last half of the season. The pick is top-12 protected. Basically, if the Blazers want to continue to build through the draft they need to continue to be lower-third-level bad.
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