LaMarcus Aldridge, who played high school ball at Seagoville, is having the best season of his career statistically, most notably in rebounding. Has anything changed in his game or is it a function of having a better supporting cast?
I think leading up to this season, one knock for some on Aldridge's game was his slight lack of rebounding relative to his size, strength and position. He's a guy who's come back better after every offseason, so there was probably a commitment to improving his rebounding from an individual standpoint this past summer.
But you have to consider the addition of Robin Lopez as a huge factor in Aldridge's improvement on the boards -- he's even said as much several times this season. Lopez is a huge body that requires attention from opposing rebounders, thus freeing up Aldridge more. Also consider that Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Lopez are all having career rebounding years, too, and not just per game but by percentage as well. I'd say it's due to a combination of individual commitment, coaching emphasis and -- most notably, probably -- the addition of Lopez.
Jose Calderon's defense has been a huge problem for the Mavs all season. Are they better off hiding a poor defensive PG on Nic Batum or Wesley Matthews than leaving him on Damian Lillard?
With all due respect to Calderon, it's likely that he gets taken advantage of by whomever Rick Carlisle tries to hide him on -- Lillard would blow by him, Matthews would post him up (though his success has been limited against the Mavericks in two games so far this year) and Batum would find ways around him or just go over the top.
And if you pull Calderon off Lillard, who guards him? Monta Ellis gets steals but isn't exactly known as a great individual defender. At this stage in his career, could Shawn Marion keep up with Lillard? He's played well in both games against Dallas this year, and I think Lillard's going to find ways to be effective tonight regardless of who's defending him. Throwing different looks at him -- traps, doubles, etc. -- is probably Carlisle's best shot at hampering Lillard's game, assuming it can be executed well enough.
When Dallas is playing well, they are getting offense off the bench, from Devin Harris, Vince Carter and Brandan Wright. How has Portland's second unit, which has a ton of young guys, fared on defense?
Portland's bench is much improved from last year, we know that for sure. Still, coach Terry Stotts rides his starters pretty hard in closer contests. The only guy off the bench who gets a lot of minutes is Mo Williams. No one on the bench is a great individual defender, and the Blazers can go through stretches where the team defense isn't very good, either, regardless of who's in the game.
The defense definitely gets worse when there are more bench players in the game -- Meyers Leonard and Will Barton, in particular, are prone to defensive lapses -- but there are also a lot of energy guys off the bench who can affect the game with some hustle, especially if they find a way to get on a roll. Williams gambles quite a bit, so sometimes that pays off with steals, but it also can put him out of position and force his teammates to cover for him, so it's a two-way street.
I guess the short answer would be that things can really go either way defensively when more backups are in the game for the Blazers, but they're more likely to struggle than play particularly well, especially if pulled out of position, forced to help each other and make quick decisions on the fly.
The playoff situation out West is so unsettled that a number of scenarios are still in play, including a Mavs-Blazers first-round tilt. Who would you say is the best and worst-case first round match-ups for Portland?
Best case scenario would probably be Dallas or Phoenix. The Mavericks play a lot of older guys extended minutes, which probably would give an advantage to the Blazers as a seven-game series progressed. Also, Ellis and Calderon could probably be exploited defensively, forcing Carlisle to try and mask their deficiencies (this goes both ways; Portland's backcourt isn't full of intimidating defenders, either). The Suns seem to have the Blazers number so far this regular season, but over the course of a seven-game series, I think Portland's talent would trump the Suns' youth and energy. Both match-ups would be fun, for sure.
I don't think the Blazers want any part of Houston in the first round of the playoffs. They have so many weapons and can attack a defense in many different ways, and Portland's definitely not an elite defensive team. Plus, Howard can obviously make it difficult for opposing guys to finish down low and he could get Lopez in foul trouble on the other end, which is never a good thing for the Blazers.
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Thanks Chris! Be sure to stop by Blazer's Edge to check out their gameday coverage!