The Portland Trail Blazers' recent winning streak of 11 games finally came to an end. Until the recent dismantling by the Phoenix Suns, the winning streak showed the Blazers actually did improve on many of the things that Coach Terry Stotts talked about in the offseason; improved defense and a ball moving, potent outside attack.
Say what you will about the defense as it is susceptible to mid-range shooting, but Stotts is playing the advanced metrics card, and obviously, so far it is has worked. Offensively, the ball movement has been phenomenal, and there will be games where the outside shooting touch is off, but again, it has been very efficient. Fans and pundits alike questioned the strategy and the sustainability, and although a month is a small sample, it has been an impressive sample nonetheless.
There are certain weaknesses however and the Phoenix Suns have shown they are able to exploit them. A penetrating guard is trouble for all teams in the league and the Suns have two very good ones in Eric Bledsoe and Blazer-killer Goran Dragic. What makes Dragic so difficult to guard is that he has the ability to shoot outside (despite this season 3-point percentage of 31% as of today), he has hit this shot against the Blazers. He also excels at the pick and roll, and this is the crucial part of the equation. Dragic's teammates in the pick and roll consist of Channing Frye and either of the Morris twins, all of who can shoot well or beyond well from the outside. This is where Portland's conservative pick and roll (P&R) defense can be beat. By design the Blazers P&R defense is meant to concede the long jumper, if only for a moment, before the ball defender can beat the screen and the big can recover by backing off and not ceding the drive. Again, most of the time this pays off, but against the Suns the screener pops more than rolls, and if the man guarding him has dropped off the protect the lane, he is open from deep -- splash! The other option here is for the two defenders to switch, which doesn't usually end well, either.
It's important that it is 3-point shooter and not just long jump shots because of the amount of space on the floor. The higher the screen and the further out the pop the harder it is to rotate or get a hand up. LaMarcus Aldridge (who is currently the best mid-range shooter in the NBA) is a great example of a player that his a great outside shooter, but inside the arc. He gets his fair share of open shots, but many with a hand in his face because of less floor space.It is fairly simple concept, but it has worked for the Suns, beating the Blazers twice (almost thrice) early in the season. Luckily there are not many teams that have the power forward and center shooting that the Suns have, but the teams that do; Dallas with Dirk Nowitzki, the 76ers with Spencer Hawes, the Pelicans with Ryan Anderson, the Timberwolves with Kevin Love and even teams like the Thunder when Kevin Durant is playing the Four, will give Portland a lot of trouble.