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PORTLAND, Ore. — It wasn't easy, but the Blazers ended their five-game losing streak, rallying from a 16-point deficit to beat the Miami Heat on Wednesday night. Now that the losing streak is over, let's check in on the Blazers with another edition of 3-on-3, a weekly KGW feature.
Every Thursday, three members of the KGW sports team will answer three questions about the Blazers. You can join the conversation on Facebook during a live chat with our panel every Thursday afternoon at 3. Can't join us on Thursday? Not a problem. You can listen later on the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast.
This week's questions focus on the contributions of versatile forward Al-Farouq Aminu, what the center rotation should look like once Jusuf Nurkic returns, and predictions for the Blazers' next four games.
If you'd like to submit a question for today's Facebook Live and podcast, email us here.
LISTEN TO KGW'S 3-ON-3 BLAZERS PODCAST
MEET OUR PANELISTS
- Orlando Sanchez is the sports anchor and reporter for KGW News, Sports Sunday and Friday Night Flights. Orlando has covered multiple NBA Finals, NCAA Basketball Tournaments and World Series.
- Jared Cowley is a digital media producer who writes about the Blazers for KGW.com. Before he came to KGW, Jared wrote about the Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors as a sports editor at two daily newspapers.
- Nate Hanson is a digital producer who contributes to KGW.com’s coverage of the Blazers, Ducks, Beavers and high school sports.
Editor's note: Orlando is in Las Vegas for the Ducks' bowl game against Boise State, so there won't be a 3-on-3 Blazers Facebook Live chat or podcast this week. But the live chat and podcast will return next Thursday!
1. There were several key players in Portland's gritty, come-from-behind win against the Miami Heat, but let's focus on Al-Farouq Aminu. Aminu had 15 points, 13 rebounds and hit five 3-pointers to help the Blazers snap their five-game losing streak. What is it about the veteran forward that makes him so important to the Blazers?
Nate: Simply put, he provides a lot of versatility. He can defend every position with the exception of center. That gives head coach Terry Stotts even more flexibility with so many players currently in the rotation. He also does a lot of dirty work inside, especially for a guy who doesn’t spend a lot of time defending in the paint. He’s the Blazers’ second-best rebounder, nearly matching Jusuf Nurkic’s average rebounds per game. This year, he’s also brought an offensive threat. He’s shooting 45 percent from the field this year and 48 percent from beyond the arc. With the inconsistencies of the Blazers' role 3-point shooters, such as Pat Connaughton, Shabazz Napier and Moe Harkless, Aminu can fill that void. If he can continue to shoot well from the perimeter, teams will have to respect his shot and extend their defense, which could allow for more opportunities for Lillard to get to the rim.
Jared: No matter what else he does, Aminu is valuable to Portland because of his defense. He's the best defender on the team, the kind of defender that makes other players around him better. He can switch and guard any position on the court and he covers a lot of ground because of his length and athleticism. Aminu's defense doesn't waver, it's always dependable. What sets Aminu apart this season is the 3-point shot. When Aminu is hitting outside shots like he is this season, his status as an elite 3-and-D player makes him one of the most valuable players on the roster. Aminu is shooting 48.4 percent from the the 3-point line on nearly five attempts per game, all career highs. He's been even better since he came back from injury. In the past six games, he's averaging 10.7 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 52.9 percent on almost six 3-point attempts per game. He's shooting the 3-pointer with less hesitation and (seemingly) more confidence than I've seen from him in his time with the Blazers. Don't tell Jusuf Nurkic, but if Aminu continues to perform at this level, I think there's a new challenger for the Blazers' third-best player.
2. With Jusuf Nurkic on the mend, soon the Blazers will have their full complement of centers available to them again. While Nurkic has been out, Meyers Leonard, Ed Davis and Zach Collins have all taken advantage of more playing time and performed well. Once Nurkic is back, the Blazers could probably benefit from a more stable rotation. Once everyone is back and healthy, which players should get the minutes at center? A couple things to keep in mind: First, these four players are centers; they're not going to get many minutes, if any, at power forward. This season, Nurkic has played 100 percent of his minutes at center; Leonard 97 percent; Collins 93 percent; and Davis 81 percent, according to basketball-reference.com. Second, Stotts has only 48 minutes of playing time available at the center position to split between the four players. How should Stotts set his center rotation?
Jared: Nurkic slides right back into the starting position and continues to play about 30 minutes per game. That's a no-brainer. That leaves about 18 minutes for the other three players. I don't think Stotts should split those minutes. It's time to start settling on a rotation and assign one player as the primary backup at center. I think Collins goes back to the end of the bench. That's no knock on Collins. He's shown promise in his short stint here with Nurkic out, averaging 7.7 points and 4.0 rebounds the past three games. He's only 20 years old. His most important gains this season will come through his work in the weight room and on the practice court. That leaves Davis and Leonard. Leonard deserves credit for playing well this season when his number has been called, something that didn't happen the past couple seasons. But Leonard is not as good a player as Davis. He is a better outside shooter, but outside of that skill, Davis does everything else better. He's more consistent, and he defends and rebounds better than Leonard, so he should get the rest of the minutes behind Nurkic.
Nate: I expect Stotts will give nearly all the minutes to Nurkic and Davis once Nurkic returns. They’re the two best players at the center position. It’s been a pleasant surprise to see Collins and Leonard play well when given opportunities. But, I don’t think Stotts feels he can consistently get those performances from them. Also, Leonard and Collins are the Blazers’ two worst defensive players, according to their defensive efficiency ratings. If the Blazers are going to be successful this season, they need to be a top 10 defensive team because the offense will continue to fluctuate. The combination of Nurkic and Davis made the Blazers one of the best rebounding teams in the league as well. If Stotts needs an offensive spark, then maybe you’ll see Leonard and Collins get spot minutes but I don’t think you’ll see it consistently.
3. Prediction time! The Blazers will be busy, playing four games in the next six days. They play at Orlando (11-18) on Friday, at Charlotte (10-17) on Saturday, at Minnesota (16-12) on Monday and are then back home to face San Antonio (19-9) on Wednesday. Which games do the Blazers win and which do they lose?
- Nate: 18-9
- Orlando: 17-10
- Jared: 17-10
Orlando: Checking in from Las Vegas ... I'm going 2-2 this week. Win back-to-back at Orlando and Charlotte. Lose at Minnesota and at home to San Antonio.
Nate: The Blazers will go 2-2 over the next four games. I think they’ll win their next two games to build a three-game winning streak before struggling against two of the best teams in the Western Conference. The Magic and Hornets are both really struggling right now. Orlando is 3-14 in their last 17 games and Charlotte is 2-8 in their last 10 games. It’s a perfect opportunity for the Blazers to build some momentum after ending their own five-game losing streak. The Timberwolves are 13-5 against the Western Conference and I think their offense will be too much for the Blazers to handle. With Kawhi Leonard returning, I expect the Spurs to control the Blazers when they return to the Moda Center.
Jared: If the Blazers want to make the playoffs this season, they have to win games like the next two. Portland has to take care of business against sub-.500 teams, even on the road. Portland has lost to a couple teams below them in the standings this season, but generally, they've won the games they've played against bad teams. So I will pick them to beat the Magic and Hornets. The other two games are more difficult. I'm going to get the Spurs game out of the way. It's the first game back after a five-game road trip (always tough), against the Spurs (Kawhi Leonard is back), so let's call that a loss for the home team. The Timberwolves game is intriguing. I'm going to say the Blazers ride a small wave of momentum and beat Minnesota. The Timberwolves are four games over .500 but they've been up and down all season and still don't play much defense. I think it's a toss-up, but I'll pick the Blazers to win and go 3-1 over the next four games. Doesn't it seem just like this up-and-down Blazers team to follow a five-game losing streak with a four-game winning streak?
If you'd like to submit a Blazers question for our panel to answer during the 3-on-3 podcast, send us an email here.