On December 4th we talked about how Portland must learn to close out inferior competition if they wanted to sustain success. At that time the Blazers were 15-3. That evening, the Blazers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-104, and as fans munched on McMuffins the next morning, it became clear the Blazers aren’t returning, digressing, or getting any worse. In fact, they’re getting better and better.
Since then, the Blazers are 6-1. Portland is scoring nine more points per game (114) than before, and are shooting better from the field and the free throw line. They have regressed less than one percent from the three point line as a team, despite Wes Matthews’ recent struggles from the arc.
Matthews is averaging 46 percent on his attempts from outside for the year, but since December 4th his outside shooting has plummeted down to 32 percent. Portland’s strength as a team has shone through his mini-slump, with Nic Batum picking up the slack.
Batum is shooting better from the field — and from three — despite taking more attempts since beating the Thunder earlier in December. He’s up eight percent from the field, including an increase of five percent from three-point range.
I can’t overstate Batum’s importance for Portland’s offense. In the Blazers’ four losses, his +/- ratio dwells at -12.9. In 21 wins, it’s +16.4. The disparity of Batum’s numbers in wins and losses stresses his importance offensively — oh, and he’s earning every penny of that contract he signed last summer.
Portland has a tough schedule coming up, playing the Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, New Orleans Pelicans, and Oklahoma City Thunder. If the Blazers can continue playing impressive team basketball, they have a chance to solidify themselves as a top power in the NBA as we move past the quarter mark of the season.