Rip City is Back!

12/13/13 in NBA   |   alexkellman1   |   9 respect

The biggest surprise this year in the NBA has been the Portland Trail Blazers. Many thought this team would be a fringe playoff team going into the season. after a little more than a quarter of the season, it looks like this team is more of a fringe title contender. The biggest question facing this team, is how has it made this sizable of a jump with a roster pretty similar to last years. Here's why:

1) The stars are shining brighter
Portland knew going into the season that LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard were the teams two best players and that they would have to carry the load again for this team to have any chance at making the playoffs, but man they could not have envisioned this! Aldridge, a two-time all star and a one time all-NBA 3rd team member, is having his best season year to date. In his seventh season the big man is averaging a career high in points (23.5), rebounds (10.4), and player efficiency rating (23.88). Lillard, last years rookie of the year, has increased his 3-point shooting from 37% to 41%, and has cut down on almost one third of his turnovers, and has improved his PER from 16 to 19. He is a more mature player on the court and has improved his defense, fully buying into Coach Terry Slotts philosophy even if that means his individual numbers taking a hit. 

2) The Offense
Portland is second in the NBA in scoring, averaging over 106 points per game. This is a huge jump from their 15th overall ranking last year and is a major reason why they are currently sitting atop the Western Conference. The reason why this team is scoring so much is that they have four guys averaging at least 13 points per game (ppg) and six averaging at least 9 ppg. They are also second in the league in 3 point shooting, up from 20th last year. Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum are both major reasons for these increases as they are shooting the lights out this year, both of their field goal and three point percentages are highly above their career averages. Who knows how long the hot hands can last, but as long as they keep firing, Portland will be in good shape. Mo Williams is another addition that has worked out well, giving the Blazers a veteran sixth man off the bench who can handle his share on offense and give advice to Lillard.

3) Robin Lopez
One of the most underrated and appreciated guys in this league is Robin Lopez. This man was the perfect offseason acquisition and gives this team exactly what it was looking for: a defense first guy who is willing to get dirty, throw his body around, do the little things a team needs to be successful, and who has no concern for his own stats. Not only is Lopez having a career year across the board, he already has more double-doubles than he had all of last season, but he is making his teammates, especially Aldridge, better. He takes a lot of pressure off Lamarcus because he gives him a complimentary big who can guard his position and protect the rim, allowing Alridge to have more energy for scoring. Oh and he is third in the league in offensive rebounds, there is that too.

The end doing of this Portland team last year was that their starters got no help toward the end of the season and the team wore down. That possible could be a destination for this team if Coach Slotts keeps playing all his starters 30 plus minutes a game as he is doing now. Look for this team to make a move at the deadline to get some more depth on this squad, helping them as the season further progresses. Hopefully Portland can keep up its hot start and make some noise this postseason.
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