Shooting Woes Continue in Atlanta
Things aren't usually as simple as they seem. This is especially the case when you try and breakdown a 48-minute NBA game. When you start to search for keys to a win or a loss, you usually land on multiple reasons, one often leading to another, and so on.
But, as of late with this Trail Blazer team, it hasn't taken someone with incredible basketball IQ to figure out pretty quickly what the problem has been. On Wednesday night the Blazers shot 38 percent against Atlanta and lost the game 92-89, to a streaking Hawks team that is one of the elites in the east.
After the game, Wesley Matthews said via Twitter, "Feel like I'm shooting on a damn carnival rim!" Obviously, he's talking about those rims that are only slightly bigger than the ball. I thought that was probably the quote of the night, and is a pretty good description of what has been happening to Portland's guards as of late. And, it's a very good indicator of Portland's lack of confidence from the perimeter right now.
As we often say, a team's confidence from the field is incredibly contagious. When things start going good, it often starts going good for everyone. The problem is, nothing has been falling for the Blazers.
So, is it really just this simple? Honestly, nothing else seems to be that broken in Portland's game plan. It's not like their offensive sets aren't resulting in good shots. They're getting good shots. They're just missing. Long misses lead to easy opportunities for opponents, and down the hill we go.
Outside shooting hasn't been a strength of this team for the last few years, and it was discussed as a concern even during training camp. But, we're seeing three of Portland's biggest perimeter threats all putting up career-low percentages, all at the same time. It's a perfect storm of clanking, and something had better change. It has to. Let's just hope the touch comes back sooner than later.
The bulk of the shots, from Portland's backcourt, are going to come from three guys, Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford, and Wesley Matthews, as you know. Historically, they are dependable and reliable shooters. Crawford can be streaky, just like Matthews, and Felton was one of the more accurate three-point-shooting point guards in the NBA last season.
In the first four games of this road trip, Felton is 16-46 (35%), Crawford is 15-53 (28%), and Matthews is 13-42 (31%). Those are all very similar numbers, and they're all taking roughly the same number of shots. All are also equally sharing in the frustration of missed shot after missed shot.
The frustration felt after Wednesday's loss in Atlanta led to a players-only discussion after the game, led by LaMarcus Aldridge, which is in itself a very encouraging sign. We don't know everything that was said in the meeting, but Aldridge said it was basically an attempt to rally confidence and belief and to start holding each other more accountable
. That part, I thought, was interesting.
We've gushed over and over again this season about how great the chemistry is on this team, and how much these players enjoy playing together. That's not about to change, but the concern now appears to be, do they like each other too much? I know, that sounds crazy, and that'll never be a legitimate problem. But, I think what Aldridge meant is that the players on this team are too concerned about hurting feelings and perhaps not willing enough to challenge each other, perhaps with some fire and brimstone. That's a necessary quality to have on a team. Maybe they need to get a little mean and nasty and not worry about ruffling feathers.
Now, I don't think you can take a bunch of nice guys and just make them artificially angry and bitter. That's not what is being discussed here. And, believe it or not, I think this is a pretty good problem to have. I'm also not really concerned about this team's current struggles. Disappointed? Sure. But, nothing we're seeing now is beyond repair, and it I really think most of these problems will solve themselves as soon as their scorers start making shots.
While we're waiting around to start the TV broadcast before a game, we're actually on the court with the players while they're warming up. We're practically in the layup line. We leave them alone, of course, unless a player strolls over and starts a conversation. That does happen on occasion.
Last night, Matthews was standing near me and we started to talk about his shooting. I always stay very brief and really just listen. He walked up and just shook his head. Sensing what he was feeling, I simply said "keep shooting. Don't think too much. It'll start to fall." He replied, "everything feels so good. I don't know why it's not happening." Obviously, it wasn't an inspiring chat (my bad), as he followed with a 2-13 night. My point is, these guys are maybe too aware of this, and are pressing too hard. Matthews seems to be aiming the ball, and taking too much time to release it. That's what happens when you're searching.
Here's the positive side of this, and what has me confident that this won't last. The Blazers can't shoot much worse than they are right now (I know, that's a dangerous thing to say). Despite the fact that the guards aren't hitting, they're still putting themselves in positions to win on the road. Atlanta has won 7 of their last 8, and is a good team. The Blazers couldn't throw the ball in the ocean from a boat in this game and could have easily won it. All it'll take is one of these guys to bust out, and the others will follow. It'll happen.
Nothing is a given, and the NBA is very tough to predict. Exhibit A would be last night's upset, when lowly Washington beat Oklahoma City. But, the Blazers should win the final two games on this trip. If they do that, they'll end the trip 3-3. They won't be happy with that, even if it happens, but considering they're mired in this offensive slump, a .500 result on a six-game trip is acceptable.
In this compressed season, as we've said repeatedly, turn the page quickly and develop a short memory. That also happens to be the key mental approach for any good shooter. The Trail Blazers have capable shooters, we're just not seeing it now.