What's on the Menu? "mmmmmm . . . Basketball!!!!"

Monday, February 4, 2013

SDH Presents the NBA's Worst to First for December: 17. Portland Trailblazers

Overall Win/Loss Record (as of November 30th):  15-14,  third place Northwest Division

This Month:

Team Statistics and League Rank (as of November 30th)

  • Points Scored: 96.9 (14th)
  • Points Allowed: 99.0 (20th)
  • Team FG%: .436 (21st)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .465 (28th)
  • Rebounds per game: 41.3 (21st)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 42.8 (20th)
  • Turnovers per game: 14.7 (14th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 15.1 (10th)

Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg): LaMarcus Aldridge (21.1)
  • Rebounds per game:  JJ Hickson(11.0)
  • Minutes per game: Damian Lillard (39.2)
  • Assists per game: Damian Lillard (6.3)
  • Field Goal Percentage: JJ Hickson (.557)
  • Steals per game: Nicolas Batum (1.6)
  • Blocked Shots per game: LaMarcus Aldridge (1.3)

Worst Player of the Month: Nicolas Batum

Last month Nicoas Batum looked as if he would be a future All Star as he lit up his opponents posting career highs in scoring; however, as the season progressed, Batum saw his numbers slide a but in December as his scoring dropped from 16.7ppg in November to 14.4 in December.  His shooting also took a major hit as well as it dropped from a respectable .423 to a dismal .387.  along with his accuracy from beyond the arc from .369 to .321.  In twelve 12 games Batum played in December, he only shot over .400 in four of the  while he shoe a woeful .319  in the other wight.  Much of his shooting woes probably has to do with a wrist injury that may be the cause of Batum's trouble putting the ball in the basket.  Fortunately for Batum, his offensive struggles has not affected the Blazers much as they managed to finish December with a 9-4 record while entering the new year a game over .500; however, At the same time, if the Blazers will need Batum to get out of his shooting slump if they want to continue their rather surprising season.    
First Player of the Month:  JJ Hickson

From being a team pariah in Cleveland, to becoming a royal bust in while at Sacramento, JJ Hickson has bounced back to have the best season in his career.  Thus far, Hickson has had a impressive season supporting Lamarcus Aldridge in the front court leading the Blazers in rebounds per game averaging close to twelve per game in December. At the same time, he has been an exceptonally efficient offensive option leading the team in field goal percentage and averaging close to 14.0ppg thus far.  One can probably go as far to say that if it were not for Hickson's elevated play, Portland would not be in their current position with  a game over .500.  As with his team's performance, Hickson can be considered as one of the pleasant surprises in the NBA.      

After three straight seasons of disappointing playoff appearances, last season looked as if it would be the end for the Portland Trailblazers as the team completely collapsed last season which resulted in the firing of the team's head coach, Nate McMillan.  It was then followed by a ruthless house cleaning of the roster as the Blazers cleared out all their cap space clogging veteran salaries in favor of expiring contracts and draft picks.  Many saw this as a sign that Portland was going to chalk this season for a loss and focus on rebuilding a team that had never really taken off to begin with.  Never did anyone think that Portland would be in any shape to compete for a playoff berth as the team's once deep veteran roster was completely gutted out in favor for lesser talented players and a cast of extremely green rookie players.  So picture the surprise on everyone's faces when the Portland Trailblazers defied all expectations and has risen to its once former glory.

The Blazers went from a projected bottom feeder in the NBA to becoming one of the pleasant surprise underdog stories of the NBA and picked itself up from where they left off in November with a respectable, yet unspectacular 6-10 record to finish 2012 with a bang going 9-4 in December and entered 2013 with a 15-14 record shocking and silencing all their doubters and detractors.  And they have accomplished this feat without any real marquee players nor with a roster that screamed "playoff contenders," to say the least as the starting back court consisted of a rookie that few knew little or anything about in Damian Lillard along with a player who fell out of favor with the coaching staff because of his poor performance last season in Wesley Matthews.  The starting five would be then rounded out by mainstay LaMarcus Aldridge who many expected tio be traded away before the March deadline followed by two relative unknowns in JJ Hickson and Nicolas Batum. Although Batum had shown promise on several occasions, his claim to fame was his rather unsportsmanlike conduct during the 2012 Summer Olympics that sullied his professional reputation while Hickson had already garnered a bad reputation for being bounced onto his third team in as many seasons.

Together with a rather unimpressive second unit that consisted of rookie busts, washed up veterans,  and players that would not even make the cut on most NBA teams, the Blazers pretty much looked like a sad group of misfits who would routinely get stomped on as the season progressed.  Now, instead of the ones being stomped on, the Blazers have been the ones doing the stomping as they surprisingly took some of league powerhouses such as the Los Angeles Lakers (10/31/2012), Chicago Bulls (11/18/2012), and the San Antonio Spurs (12/13/2012).  What really put them over the top however, was the fact that the Blazers took advantage of the relatively soft December schedule that it had as they only faced three teams with records over .500.  Surprisingly, the one team that had the Blazers' card in December happened to be loathsome Sacramento Kings that beat them two of three times they faced each other (12/8, 12/23, 12/26).  Other that that, the Blazers managed to earn themselves wins against the far lesser teams on their schedule to finish 2012 with a respectable standing.

What is even more shocking about their performance in December was the Blazers'  ability to come trough in the clutch and win the close games.  They started December with two overtime wins against the Cleveland Cavaliers (12/1/2012) followed by the Charlotte Bobcats two days later (12/3/2012)--both of which were rather high scoring affairs as Portland scored 118 points in both games beating their opponents by a total of seven points.  After blowing out the Toronto Raptors at home (12/10/2012) followed by the shocking upset of the Spurs three days later, the Blazers managed to just squeak past the New Orleans Hornets by just one point (12/16/2012) earning them three wins in a row.  Portland managed to stretch their streak to two more game by finishing strong against division rival Denver Nuggets beating them by eight points (12/20/2012) and earning the hard fought victory against the Phoenix Suns, squeaking past them by just three (12/23/2012).  And although they had a small speed bump losing two of the three, the Blazers finished of the month and the year in style with a four point win against the Philadelphia 76ers (12/29/2012).

Some may say that much of the Blazers' hot December streak probably had more to do with luck more than anything else; however, considering the amount of inexperience and the disparity in terms of talent and depth, what Portland accomplished was pretty impressive to say the least.  For as limited in terms of talent as the Blazers were, they still managed to have enough poise and composure to battle their opponents through all 48 minutes to earn the deserved win.  Most other teams that had similar situations as Portland would have been able to pull off such a feat as beating five of the nine teams they defeated by six points or less.  Granted, it does help that Portland was blessed with a rookie of the year candidate in Damian Lillard, the consistent All Star play of LaMarcus Aldridge, the impressive start of Nicolas Batum along with the stunning comeback performances of Wesley Matthews and JJ Hickson.  Nonetheless, they still must be commended for silencing the critics and haters while "blowing the mind"of every team in the NBA.