Opponent: Portland Trail Blazers
Starting Lineup: Damian Lillard - CJ McCollum - Trevor Ariza - Carmelo Anthony - Hassan Whiteside
Second Unit: Anfernee Simons - Gary Trent Jr. - Mario Hezonja - Caleb Swanigan
Leading Scorer: Lillard (28.3 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Whiteside (14 RPG)
Leading Assists: Lillard (7.6 APG)
Biggest Strength: Backcourt
The Blazers are led by their their staring backcourt: Lillard and McCollum. It’s been that way for years. They are averaging about 50 PPG between the two of them, over 11 APG and they each shoot over 37% from behind the arc and over 45% from the field. It’s not easy to matchup with a duo of that caliber. Lillard is an elite playmaker with Steph Curry-like range, while McCollum is more of a threat in the midrange. Their differing styles complement each other well. Defensively, they aren’t as solid, as they exert most of their energy on offense. But when you’re that good at offense, a lot of times it doesn’t matter.
Biggest Weakness: Second Unit
In recent years, the Blazers have staggered Lillard and McCollum’s minutes, so they would have an elite guard on the court to run the offense at all times. This year, however, they have handed the keys to the second unit to Simons. The results have not been great. The NET rating of Simons-Trent-Hezonja lineups, their most consistent bench pieces this year, is -11.6 in 104 minutes. With how well the Indiana Pacers’ bench has been playing this year, this is where they can really separate themselves.
The X-Factor: Anthony
The resurgence of Anthony has been one of the biggest storylines of the Blazers season. He’s averaging 16.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG and is shooting 43.6% from the field 37.5% from three-point range. His defense is still abysmal and he oftentimes disrupts the flow of the offense by going iso, but he has, without a doubt, been a positive addition to this team. He’s especially important because he is the clear third-wheel in the scoring hierarchy in Portland. Behind Lillard and McCollum, Anthony is the only other player who can consistently put the ball in the basket on his own. How effective Anthony plays against Indiana’s strong defense will play dividends in this game.
After making their first Western Conference Finals in the Lillard era, this year has gone about as bad as it could for the Blazers. A lot of that has to do with injuries, as losing Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins and Rodney Hood hurts a lot. Lillard and McCollum are still great offensive guards and Anthony can still score pretty effortlessly at times. Whiteside is a double-double machine, but he’s more-or-less a negative because of his laziness and general lack of feel on both ends of the court. The Kent Bazemore-Ariza swap was a good trade for the Blazers. They needed more long defenders on the wing. Ariza isn’t the two-way wing he once was, but he’s still an upgrade over 6’5’’ Bazemore guarding big wings. Overall, the biggest gap is with their bench, as Simons-Trent-Hezonja-Swanigan is one of the worst benches in the league.