We're still on our NBA journey. The playoffs have begun, and sixteen teams vie for the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Fifteen teams will join the other 14 non-playoff teams as those who did not win the championship. If a team did not win the title, then that means adjustments must be made in order to best position themselves to win next year. Here at TSFJ, along with the power of music, we are going to present ways each franchise can fix themselves. We will have a safe way and an extreme way to do this. Sometimes, relationships just need repair. Other times, a breakup in some form is necessary. We begin with the first team eliminated from the postseason, the Portland Trail Blazers.
Record: 49-33; Western Conference third seed
Head Coach: Terry Stotts
Playoff Result: Lost 1st round, 4-0 (sweep!), to the New Orleans Pelicans
I did not think Portland would be the first team to be eliminated from the playoffs. After a slow beginning of the season, Damian Lillard and the Blazers got hot after the All-Star break. In a very cluttered Western Conference behind Houston and Golden State, the Blazers beat the Utah Jazz on the final day of the regular season to claim the third spot in the conference. But while that is an impressive accomplishment, Portland finished one game better than the fourth, fifth and sixth-seeded teams.
New Orleans was that sixth-seeded team. And while the Pelicans had lost DeMarcus Cousins for the season, the team was still formidable enough to be competitive in what is believed to be the better conference in the NBA. Though a sweep was incredibly unexpected, a Blazers series loss was more than possible.
Most of the credit will be given to Pelicans All-Everything big man Anthony Davis. As the best player in the series, he played so well and was simply unstoppable. However, the main reason why Portland is eliminated is because of the defensive scheme created by Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, which was predicated on surrounding Damian Lillard. New Orleans used a multi-layered, aggressive trap geared around point guard Jrue Holiday taking away Lillard's airspace. The double team, as Lillard said himself, would make him decide if he wanted to take a tough shot or make the right play and pass. The latter option, though correct, placed the ball in the hands of players like Evan Turner and Al-Farooq Aminu. They are solid players, but far less threatening offensive options than Lillard or CJ McCollum, so Portland's offense struggled mightily at times.
The Safe Fix
Make-up Song: D'Angelo - "The Line"
Portland needs a third option. Rather, the Blazers need a scoring option in the frontcourt. That player doesn't have to be an All-Star, but he must be capable of scoring in some one-on-one situations. As great as Lillard and McCollum are, not even they can carry that much offensive burden; especially if teams can gameplan to load up on them without fear of anyone else on the Blazers.
So either Aminu, Pat Connaughton, Mo Harkless or someone else in the main rotation must develop as a playmaker and/or shooter. I'm sure the rest of the Association has taken note of how to defend Portland's amazing backcourt. And if they're going to keep the team relatively whole, that means those players must get better and expand their games.
The Extreme Fix
Breakup Song: Toni Braxton - "Seven Whole Days"
Trade an important cog. Center Yusuf Nurkic and the aforementioned Turner and Aminu are all expendable pieces.
Maybe CJ McCollum is, too.
Guard play has much more emphasis in the present state of basketball. However, versatility is also at its most abundant. A team's playmaker does not have to be a guard. Trapping Lillard was more of a hindrance than even doubling McCollum. While CJ shot 52% from the field and averaged 25 points in the series, it was not enough to notch one victory because Lillard is the most important piece on that team.
While the trap is inherently risky for the defending team, it believes that it has the advantage when playing 3-on-4 versus what the trapped offensive player has to contend with against a set defense. Portland does not have enough potency on offense to deter the Pelicans from taking this risk. Coupled with Holiday's individual effort against Lillard, Portland was a member of the playoffs for one week. Seven days of postseason basketball is not long enough for a team to believe they're contenders. And maybe a stellar backcourt must be split before it's too late, and a plateau is reached.
I don't have the perfect formula to change the Blazers from swept to champion in one year, but something must change. Happy NBA, folks.
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse's good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.