Blazers Need to Emulate the Spurs
Phoenix is one of the hottest teams in the NBA while the Blazers enter this first round series without Brandon Roy. Understandably, the consensus seems to be that Phoenix should dispatch Portland fairly easily.
But the Suns might be the most unbalanced team in terms of offense to defense in the playoffs. And we think this gives the undermanned Blazers an outside chance in this series.
The Suns are easily the worst defensive team in the playoffs, far worse than the mediocre defensive units of the D'Antoni era. I understand Phoenix has been playing better defense of late, but without Robin Lopez for the series, there is no doubt the Suns' defense is rather suspect.
Think Portland needs to copy some of things that the Spurs have done in the past that have made them successful when matched up with the Suns.
Spurs are generally successful vs. the Suns because they do two things as well as any team in NBA that put a major crimp in the Suns' style of play:
1) The Spurs get back in transition as well as any team.
2) The Spurs generally defend the 3pt. line as well as any team.
The Spurs just don't keep the opposition's 3pt. % low, they limit the number of 3pt. attempts. They would do this vs. the Suns and force them into mid-range jumpers. This would cut down on the extra points per possession that the Suns thrive on to outscore their opponent while playing lackluster defense.
Though, a lot of times when a team tries to overplay the 3pt. line, they eventually give up easy looks at the rim. But the Spurs were so well-schooled defensively, they never got burned bad. The Spurs' baseline rotations were textbook to challenge the dives/rolls of Amare & Marion. The Spurs were able to flood the Suns 3pt. shooters but still hustle to help Duncan at the basket.
Can the Blazers pull this off defensively? Not sure. They're solid with Camby on the backline, but in general, Portland is not as tight as the Spurs defensively.
What's positive for the Blazers heading into this series is that they have been solid in their transition defense this year and have done a good job limiting the Suns' transition game in the season series. (See Hollinger article)
Also, the Blazers did a nice job guarding the 3pt. line during the season. (Opponents shot 34%). But it's not just about keeping the Suns' 3pt. % low - it might be more important to keep their 3pt. attempts low.
A lot has been made of the importance of controlling the tempo in this series. No doubt it's a key factor in this series, but controlling how much damage Phoenix does from behind the arc could be just as crucial.
Like the Spurs, encourage shots in the 12-to-22 ft. range. Even sacrifice some wide open looks on mid-range jumpers, just as long as 3pt. attempts are kept to a minimum. Make it a goal to hold the Suns to 12-13 3pt. attempts per game. (The Suns average 21 attempts from long range per game.)
When Frye is on the floor with Amare, Nate should have Camby checking Amare. Camby should be sloughed off near the painted area as much as possible. Let Amare have his looks in the high post.
On offense, Portland has to attack paint relentlessly. This is another strategy that the Spurs would implement vs. the Suns. Either constantly calling Duncan's number on the block or having Parker & Manu darting to the rim, the main idea was to punish the bad interior defense of the Suns.
Portland's primary line of attack has to be feeding Aldridge on the low block. LaMarcus can't settle for mid-post action--he needs to try to get deeper position and try to finish his shots as close to the basket as possible.
Andre Miller should be the another option for Coach Nate to turn for post-up points. Also, Andre is a quality finisher for a PG and needs to be aggressive driving the ball. I'm sure Portland will try to make a concerted effort to exploit Nash on the defensive end.
Rudy Fernandez has been frustrated with his role this season. Can understand Rudy's frustration since he has the goods to be a quality starting 2-guard in the NBA. But can't fault Coach Mac much considering Rudy plays the same position as Roy.
Well, Rudy has no excuses now, he will be given ample opportunities to provide offense. Next to Miller, Rudy can create scoring opportunities for himself or teammates. Rudy can't just look to jack up bombs, but also mix enough dribble drives to put pressure on the soft interior of the Suns.
Phoenix doesn't protect their defensive glass (only G-State was worse) and should be even more vulnerable with Lopez out. The Blazers were the 4th-best offensive rebounding team in the reg. season.
The one caveat is the Blazers can't go at the off. glass with as much vigor in this series because they need to put more emphasis on transition defense. Nate should still have Camby & LaMarcus heading to the glass as much as possible, while the perimeter guys need to pick their spots when to help on the off. boards.
So buck up, bearded, American Apparel-ed, PBR-drinking, Potato Champion-eating, fixed-gear-bike-riding Bridgetown fanbase (and Henry) who have been demoralized by a litany of injuries this season.
If the Blazers can stay diligent with a game plan of cutting down 3pt. attempts and transition on defense while relentlessly attacking the interior of the Suns' defense on offense, and use their advantage on the off. glass, they can extend this series to a seventh game.