Rather than regurgitate a fluff piece about the “keys” to tonight’s game, I spoke to Blazers Edge’s Steve Dewald about the state of the team and what we should expect from Portland heading into tonight. Please express either your fondness or dismay for this format in the comment section.
1. Expectations were high coming into the season for the Blazers, why have things gone rockier than expected?
Nobody in Portland expected the Trail Blazers to be eight games below .500 at this point in the season, but that is how things have played out this year.
I think the Blazers were exposed a little bit in the postseason last spring, which led to opposing teams forcing he ball into the hands of Portland’s role players. Outside of those troubles, Al-Farouq Aminu’s early season absence had a major impact on the the defense. No matter how many points Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum scored, it was never enough to outrun the defensive lapses.
2. Is the Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum backcourt too small to ever truly compete against a teams like the Warriors?
Size is definitely an issue, the McLillard backcourt is fairly undersized compared to the rest of the league. The bigger issue is their inability to avoid and work through screens on defense. Jusuf Nurkic isn’t going to be able to help off of screens on the perimeter, so something has to change if the current trio is going to stay intact.
3. If you were forced to trade either Lillard or McCollum, which one would you trade and why?
Yikes. I don’t want to weasel my way of this, but it is tough to make a decision at this point. After the starting backcourt, this roster is poorly constructed. Portland’s financial situation is a mess, and a lot of the players have redundant skills. I’d like to see what Lillard and McCollum could do with a group players that complement their talents.
If I had to trade one, it would probably be Lillard at this point. It is close, but McCollum has been unstoppable at times this season.
4. Do you think the front office will end up regretting matching the Brooklyn Nets’ offer sheet to Allen Crabbe last summer?
I’m pretty sure the organization has been regretting that move for a few months. Even in the new salary cap era, that is a ton of money for a reserve guard. I mentioned the poor roster construction in my previous answer, and Crabbe’s contract is public enemy No. 1.
The Blazers have to dump money this summer, and it might take one of Portland’s first round picks to offload Crabbe’s salary.
5. What the hell has gotten into Jusuf Nurkic and what is it going to take for the Suns to stop him?
Nurkic clearly wanted out of Denver, and he has embraced his new surroundings with vigor. The Blazers haven’t had a post presence of his caliber since LaMarcus Aldridge packed his bags, and the backcourt is clearly benefiting from it. The 22-year-old still commits too many turnovers, but he has clearly injected some life into Portland’s dismal season.
Making Nurkic move on defense is the best way to stymie his effectiveness. Brook Lopez found success by forcing him outside of the paint, while the Wizards got the big fella in foul trouble by forcing him to reach on defense.
6. Who is the most unsung player on the Blazers this season?
He hasn't played a ton, but Shabazz Napier doesn't get enough credit in Portland. The former UCONN star is a fierce competitor in practice, and he plays fearlessly when he does see time on the court. Evan Turner's injury has created a need for another ball handler, and Napier has filled that role admirably.