Friday, October 24, 2008

October Previews

October 24, 2008

Preseason in the NBA is like previews at a movie theater. Coaches get a glimpse of what’s to come before the main attraction starts. A month ago, I asked Nate McMillan what he was looking for throughout exhibition play and his response was twofold; he wanted to evaluate the Blazers’ Inside Out game and condition a defensive mindset.

Seven pre-season games and four wins later, with a Trail Blazers squad more ready than ever to start the regular season, I asked McMillan to evaluate October previews. Starting with offense, he said, “Teams have given us different looks. We still have to learn to play off each other in terms of spacing, where to go, and reacting to teams when we drop the ball inside. It’s an adjustment for LaMarcus. Last year he was pretty much the only guy who was double-teamed in the post, so he played with the ball. This year, with Greg inside, LaMarcus needs to learn to play off the ball and where to rotate.”

The developing game in the paint is a great step forward for a team that, last season, won or lost games based on perimeter shooting. McMillan is happy to have options in the paint, claiming, “The fact is, we can go down there to several guys, Greg, LaMarcus, Brandon, Travis. If they are going to give us single coverage, we like that. If they are going to double, we’ll have to learn to read and react.”

On the other side of the ball, McMillan believes his team has the skills to make stops, but simply needs a few more reps. He said, “We’re making the effort, but we’re not consistent with it. And the reason for that is that they aren’t conditioned to it. We have to keep conditioning ourselves to play aggressive defense - good weakside help and finishing the play with a rebound. They’re offensive minded guys and the effort is there, but sometimes you revert back to old habits…Those habits will come as we play games.”

Overall, McMillan is encouraged by the way October unfolded. “It was a good training camp,” said McMillan. “We got our work in, we’ve come out of camp healthy, everyone is ready to go and you can’t ask for more than that.”

Here’s a quick look at some of the preseason stats: The Blazers averaged 96.4 points per game on 47.1% field goal shooting, while conversely holding opponents to 91 points per game on 43.7% field goal shooting. My favorite stat of preseason play falls under hustle. The Blazers ranked 1st in the NBA in offensive boards, grabbing 33.2% of their missed shots, putting themselves in position to earn a significant number of second chance points. If the previews are any indication of the main attraction, the Blazers might be on their way to Four Stars.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Blazers' Depth & Dimes

October 8, 2008:

In a rare moment when a Blazer’s game isn’t on TV, I get the privilege of being a fan, watching the game from seats in an entirely sold out Rose Garden. At the first pre-season game of the year against the Sacramento Kings, I found myself in awe of the Blazers’ depth as TV analyst Mike Rice and I watched the game (and he yelled at the refs). Coach Nate McMillan used 8 different players in 12 different rotations at the 1, 2, 3 spots alone. That’s unbelievable considering a lot of teams use an 8-man rotation total. Of course a lot of that has to do with the fact that it’s pre-season. McMillan will tinker with the lineup all month long. But, there’s more to it.

McMillan has the luxury of doing a double take on the perimeter anytime he wants this season. Think about the guards: Olympic Silver Medalist Rudy Fernandez is a shooting guard who can play point or small forward; Olympic Select Jerryd Bayless is a point guard who can play shooting guard; All-Star Brandon Roy plays shooting guard, point and small forward. Plus, starting point guard Steve Blake owns one of the best assist to turnover ratios in the league. Now consider the 3: Martell Webster stretches any defense with his long shot, Travis Outlaw provides fire power off the bench and Nicolas Batum’s length and poise might just surprise everyone in the league this season.

I asked McMillan about his versatility at the 1,2,3 spots this morning, and he said, “Wow. I had no idea I played that many combinations. It won’t continue, but I’m glad I’ve got the options.” The question: With so many different possible rotations, how will the minutes get split? What a great “problem” for the coaches. I look forward to watching the solution, which comes complete with a pass-first attitude and a whole lot of dimes.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

October 1, 2008:

WELCOME to the launch of and the very first entry of “Off the Sideline”! The NBA season is a little less than a month away and I cannot wait for another year of action to unfold, especially if it ends with a playoff run for the Blazers. With a mix of stars from a couple continents, talent running as deep as the entire bench, and an experienced coaching staff, it will happen. Since so many great stories go untold on the air, I’ll relay some of them here when I’ve got a moment “Off the Sideline”. Please check in whenever you’re in the mood for a break, and in need of a quick sports fix. Thank you for the look!