One cannot help but be optimistic about the Portland Trail Blazers right now. I know that Zach Lowe of Grantland said that the Phoenix Suns are the story of the NBA right now (here), but with all due respect, Mr. Lowe — you are wrong. Rip City is for real and I think even the early non-believers are starting to come around, if for no other reason than it’s really hard to argue with the wins; and not only that but the numbers behind the wins.
Road Less Traveled
Last season there were only eight teams with winning records on the road — eight. As you might have guessed, all of them made the NBA playoffs and the team with the most road wins (Miami Heat with 29) won the NBA title — the Spurs who lost in seven games had 23 road wins. The Blazers? Oh, right … they had 11 road wins all season. Their final mark of 11-30 was one of the main reasons they failed to reach the playoffs as their home record was a respectable 22-20. Times have changed.
Monday night marked the Blazers’ 12th road win already. They are a ridiculous 12-2 on the road and though there last two games required buzzer-beaters by Damian Lillard (see below), they count as wins nonetheless. There is only one other team in the NBA with 10 or more road wins to date and they are the always consistent San Antonio Spurs who sit at 10-3 away from home.
Of course there will be those who say “look at the Blazers’ pillow soft schedule! That’s why they’re 12-2″ and to this I would say, if this was the Heat, Lakers, Rockets or Clippers then this would be a non-issue. People only bring up the Blazers’ schedule because they are the newbies in the upper echelon. Fans and analysts alike are quick to hate on newbies when they arrive on the scene, always looking for their flaws rather than pointing out their efficiencies. Let’s take a look at some undeniable stats, along with who the Blazers have beaten.
Numbers Never Lie
The combined record of their opponents on the road is 111-175 (.388 win percentage) so again the pillow soft reference is valid, however road wins are hard to come by in the NBA regardless of who you play. During this 12-2 start they have only beaten two teams who are above the .500 mark; the Denver Nuggets and the Golden State Warriors. Their two losses were against the surprising Phoenix Suns who sit at 14-9…somehow.
The statistics behind their road wins are stunning so far, and again this comes with the caveat that they have only played 14 road games out of 41 on the season, but just take a look for yourself.
Points Per Game: The Blazers sit at 109.5 on the season for games on the ROAD! For a point of reference there is only one other team averaging more than 105 points per road game and that is the Houston Rockets at 108.6, and they are only 6-6 during that span.
Shooting: You’re smart, so you can probably ascertain that if they are scoring 109.5 points per game they are shooting the lights out, right? Right! They lead the league shooting 42.2 percent from 3-point range (only the Warriors and Wizards are also better than 40 percent), they sit at fourth in the league from the charity stripe at 81.1 percent and their overall field goal percentage is 45.4 percent, which is good enough for eighth in the league. We all know they can shoot it with Wes, Dame, Batum, Mo and Wright but the driving force is still the inside presence of LaMarcus Aldridge freeing all the shooters up constantly. That is the difference between this team and say a Golden State who also shoots very, very well from distance.
Rebounding: The points and 3s get fans out of their seats (well, maybe not on the road) but the key to this whole turnaround might be the uptick in rebounding. Last season the Blazers were 25th in the NBA with only 40.2 rebounds per night on the road. This season they sit FIRST in the league with 47.1 rebounds per night on the road. Almost a seven-rebound difference. And people thought they would miss J.J. Hickson, psssh.
Sharing is Caring: The reason this team is so fun to watch is because they all share the ball; they completely trust each other out there and its easy to see. Nobody cares about the number of assists they get, or who hits the shots, they just feed the hot-hand or hands lately and watch the show. They sit FIRST in the NBA right now averaging 25 assists per night on the road. To put that in perspective they average 40 made field goals, so 62.5 percent of their made baskets come from an assist.
Another thing that helps on the road — having Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge to throw the ball to when you need a clutch bucket. Late Monday night Aldridge missed a shot that would have all but iced the win by putting the Blazers up four with about 17 seconds to go versus the Cavaliers. The Cavs got the rebound and tied the game with 7.1 seconds to play. All Damian Lillard did was hit three number eight on the night as the buzzer sounded — back to back game winners for the second-year stud.
Here they are for your viewing pleasure…
The Blazers play the scorching hot Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday for the last game of this four-game road trip (they are 3-0 so far) and then its back to rainy Portland for some notable games — they play the Miami Heat on Dec. 28 at the Moda Center.
You can contact me about this article on twitter: @Chris_Reichert