January was a month the Blazers need to put in their rear view mirror. They finished a disappointing 8-6 for the month and have thus dropped to third in the Western Conference at an overall record of 33-13 — still no need to panic by any means, but Portland needs to get back to their winning formula.
This formula is not something the Blazers let be known publicly, but it was something that I pointed out during their hot start to the season. Portland is not going to beat you with defense, so they need to outscore teams and provide defense in spots. The formula was to make more 3-pointers and free throws than their opponents and have less turnovers as well. Three aspects of the game that when won by the Blazers, usually equals a win.
In November and December the Blazers were making 10.4 3-pointers per game (their record in those months was 25-6). The other side to that number is that they were only allowing 5.4 3-pointers per game to their opponents over that same span; so they were outscoring opponents by an average of 15 points per night just from the 3-point line — pretty amazing if you soak that in.
January rolls around and apparently they forgot about this strategy. They still hit 8.1 3-pointers a night; however, they shot their lowest percentage from deep so far this season for any month finishing at only 35.8 percent. To make matters worse they allowed 7.9 3-pointers a night on 41 percent shooting for their opponents. So, that 15-point cushion — gone. Dunks and 3-pointers (especially if your name is Stephen Curry) have the ability to ignite a crowd and team so this combination was not good for the Blazers in January.
Free Throws Made/Attempted
As for the January they stayed right on par with their free throws made (19.3) and attempted (23.4) for a ridiculous 82.3 percent as a team from the charity stripe. However, in November and December they were only giving up 16.5 points to their opponents per night from the free throw line, meaning they outscored them by another three points each night. In January opponents made 18.1 free throws per game so the Blazers’ three-point advantage dropped to a one-point advantage — no bueno.
Taking care of the ball has been key to the success of the Blazers so far and that trend actually continued (and got better) in January. In November and December they averaged 13.7 turnovers per night and that number dropped to 13.0 turnovers per night in January. Even though they got better, their opponents only averaged 11.6 turnovers per night, so the turnover battle was lost, meaning their opponents averaged about two more possessions per game and when coupled with the other factors we have discussed becomes a big problem.
The Blazers were dead last in steals per game in January with 5.6 per night, so if they aren’t making more 3-pointers and free throws, it’s really hard for them to compete due to their lack of overall defense as well.
So, in January the Blazers gave up their 14-point cushion (15 on 3′s, three on free throws and lose four because of two extra possessions for opponents) and thus went 8-6. If they would have had those 14 points in every game during the month of January? They would have been 12-2 instead of 8-6 and we would be once again talking about how they are the surprise of the season.
All is not lost. Portland is still doing very, very well at 33-13 and are still on pace to have home-court advantage for the first round of the NBA playoffs (although there is a lot of season left). The Blazers need to get their mojo back and they need to get healthy as well. Nicolas Batum is battling through a fractured finger and an injured foot as well, so maybe with the All-Star break coming up he can get some extra rest as well.
Speaking of the All-Star Game, both Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge were named Western Conference reserves by the coaches on Thursday night. This is Lillard’s first All-Star selection and Aldridge’s third. They were featured in a commercial for the game as well, seen here:
So, here’s to a happier February and the Blazers kick the month off with a tough game against the Toronto Raptors at home Saturday night. The Raptors are third overall in the Eastern Conference, but at 25-21 they wouldn’t even be top-eight in the West.
**You can contact Chris regarding this article on Twitter: @Chris_Reichert