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PORTLAND, Ore. — After a promising start to the season, the Blazers have lost three of four. It seems like the sky is suddenly falling in Portland, so it's time to check in on the team 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? No problem! You can listen later on the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast.
This week's questions focus on the Blazers' recent poor play, improvement from Jusuf Nurkic and predictions for the next three games.
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.
1. Over the past four games, the Blazers have won just once and are not playing well on offense or defense. During this stretch, they rank 23rd in offense and 15th in defense. Which should be more of a concern to Blazers fans, the offensive woes or a return to defensive mediocrity?
Jared: The Blazers' defense has been good enough to win the past four games; it has been the offense that has failed the team. The No. 15 defensive ranking over the past four games sounds worse than it is. The Blazers' defensive rating the past four games is 104.9, still a large improvement over last season's 107.8 rating. A 104.9 rating would have ranked ninth in the league last season, so the Blazers are still getting it done on the defensive end. The Blazers' offensive rating is 99.9 the past four games. How bad is that? A 99.9 offensive rating would have ranked last in the league last season by a full point. The biggest problem is the Blazers are missing a ton of shots. Their field goal percentage for the season (42 percent) ranks 28th in the league. Over the past four games, it's been worse, at 40 percent. Portland is shooting 36 percent from the 3-point line over the past four games, 28 percent the past two. The good news is the Blazers have good shooters and scorers. The offense should right itself. If Portland can continue to play solid defense, this team will win more games than it loses.
Nate: I think the offensive woes are more concerning. Defensively, I think the Blazers can be in the 10-15 range all season. But this team, simply put, is underperforming offensively. Last season, the Blazers shot below 40 percent as a team in just 11 games. This season, they’ve already done it four times, all of which have come in the last five games. They’re 1-3 in those games. What’s also concerning is who the Blazers are shooting poorly against. It’s against playoff-caliber teams. Portland shot 42 percent against the Bucks, and 39 percent against the Clippers, Raptors and Jazz. For a team with shooters like Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and a deep frontcourt, that’s unacceptable. The bench also needs to be more consistent. The offensive contributions from the Blazers’ bench has been almost non-existent in their four losses. They’re getting just 17 points per game from the bench in their four losses, but 41 points per game in their four wins.
Orlando: A mediocre defense is giving the Blazers a chance to win games. The offense is preventing them from winning games. It’s impressive how bad it has been at times. Like the worst second quarter in franchise history or having a few players rank among the league’s worst shooters within five feet of the basket (according to Joe Freeman at the Oregonian). It doesn’t just stop with buckets. The team has struggled in crunch time with missed free throws and key turnovers that cost them against the Jazz and last week versus the Bucks. Offense is the problem right now.
2. It has been an up-and-down season for Jusuf Nurkic, but he played perhaps his best game of the season in the loss to the Jazz, with 19 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists and a steal in a season-high 35 minutes. What stood out to you about Nurkic's performance Wednesday?
Orlando: Jusuf Nurkic had arguably his best game of the early season at Utah. I was interested to see him match up against an all-star big man in Rudy Gobert. I felt like he played up to his competition. Was it the Nurkic we saw last season? No, but it has to be a confidence boost to getting back to that point. On the flip side, he got beat up. He took a shot to the throat/neck area and was kneed in the junk. The overtime period was uneventful for Nurkic, who chalked up a couple of missed shots, missed free throws and a couple of fouls.
Jared: The Blazers got Nurkic involved as the roll man in the pick and roll early and stuck with it throughout the game. This was an effective tool for the Blazers last season and it was good to see the offense use it more against the Jazz. For much of the game, it helped neutralize Utah's fantastic center, Rudy Gobert, on defense. As the roll man, Nurkic has a lot of options and generally executes them well. The biggest difference, though, was that Nurkic made shots at the rim that he's been missing this season. Nurkic hit half his shots Wednesday and over the past four games, he's shooting 46 percent from the field, after shooting 36 percent the first four games. Nurkic played well defensively Wednesday, but he's been good on the defensive end all season. His defensive rating through eight games is 98.6, easily the best mark of his career. He continues to rebound the ball well (11 per 36 minutes) and though his steals and blocks have been down, Nurkic has been affecting shots at the rim and disrupting passing lanes all season. Even when he was struggling on offense, Nurkic's defense has been consistently effective since the start of the season.
Nate: He got off to a strong start, which I think helped build his confidence. He got a couple quick buckets, got an early block and forced a steal, which set the tone for him in a matchup against a tough center. I think he’s steadily been improving. Although he didn’t shoot well against the Suns on Saturday, he scored 17 points and pulled down 9 rebounds. He appears to be more comfortable and not playing as quick, which I think is reflected in his decrease in turnovers from the first week to second week. At times though, it still doesn’t feel like he’s the defensive presence he was the last year. We saw a glimpse of it against the Jazz with his three blocks. He had only two blocks combined in the three prior games.
3. Prediction time! Portland plays the Lakers (3-4) on Thursday, the Thunder (4-3) on Sunday and Grizzlies (5-3) on Tuesday, all at home. Make your picks. Which games do the Blazers win and which do they lose?
SEASON-TO-DATE PREDICTION RECORDS
- Nate: 7-1
- Jared: 6-2
- Orlando: 6-2
Nate: I think the Blazers go 2-1 over the next three games. I think their one loss will come to the Thunder. The Blazers have struggled to shoot well against strong defensive teams. The Jazz (3rd), Clippers (7th), and Raptors (8th) are in the top 10 of team defensive rating. Right now, Oklahoma City has the second best defensive rating in the league. I also believe the Thunder’s backcourt also matches up well against the smaller Blazers guards. As for their victories, I think Portland rights the ship against Los Angeles and cruises to a double-digit win. The Grizzlies are another strong defensive team, ranking 4th in defensive efficiency, but they struggle to score, averaging just 100 points a game (25th in the NBA). Like the Jazz game, I think it will be a close, low-scoring game but I’ll give the Blazers the nod at home.
Orlando: There’s a trend forming right now and it’s pretty simple. Portland is losing to the good teams and winning against the bad teams. The Blazers beat LA, but lose to OKC and Memphis. One bright spot, Blazers fans, all three of these games are at home and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Blazers have a winning week, but I gotta see it first.
Jared: It's so tough to call these games right now. The Blazers are mired in a team-wide shooting slump. Until they prove that's a thing of the past, it's hard to pick them to beat good teams, even at home. I'll pick the Blazers to win two of the next three, though I’m hardly confident in my forecast. Even on the second night of a back-to-back, Portland should beat the rested Lakers. Portland has won 12 in a row against the Lakers. That streak will continue. The other two are more difficult to predict. The Thunder are coming off consecutive road wins, a 32-point drubbing of the woeful Bulls and an impressive 19-point win against the Bucks. Oklahoma City is more talented than Portland and will win a closely contested game. The Grizzlies' game is more intriguing. Memphis started strong, beating the Warriors and Rockets (twice) during a 5-2 start. But their two stars, Mike Conley (Achilles) and Marc Gasol (ankle), are ailing, the Grizzlies have lost two in a row, and their game in Portland will be the third of a five-game road trip. Portland will win an ugly game against the weary Grizzlies.
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