With Roy out, Blazers start to run
TUALATIN, Ore. — First, there was the confession.
Then there was the reality.
Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan said Monday his team was attempting to move the ball up the floor with greater urgency, following a 98-79 victory over Charlotte that saw Portland run the fast break and gun away during transition in a manner that has seldom been seen this season.
After the win, McMillan acknowledged that it felt like the Blazers had been trying “forever” to increase their offensive tempo.
But in back-to-back impressive victories over Dallas and the Bobcats, forever evolved — at least temporarily — into today.
As players such as Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez sprinted through lanes and finished length-of-the-court plays, point guards Andre Miller, Jerryd Bayless and Steve Blake set their teammates up with crisp crosscourt and lob passes.
At times looking more like Golden State or Phoenix than the Blazers, Portland picked up quick, easy baskets that provided a shot in the arm while frustrating opponents.
It was a noticeable change for a Blazers team whose 8.4 average fast-break points ranks last out of 30 NBA teams.
“We’re talking about it … and they’re making an effort to do it,” said McMillan, following a Tuesday morning workout at the team’s practice facility.
In the past, Portland would first attempt to work the ball inside for a post up or try to run an established set, McMillan said.
But that approach has changed with All-Star guard Brandon Roy injured and out of the lineup, and centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla lost for the season due to knee injuries.
Now, the Blazers are looking to move the ball forward when the option is there. The primary choices: Miller and Bayless driving to the rim, or forward LaMarcus Aldridge receiving a pass deep in the post.
McMillan said the change began Saturday in Dallas, during a 114-112 overtime victory over the Mavericks.
As Bayless and Miller attacked, Aldridge pounded. The setup allowed for maximum floor spacing. And it was buoyed by Portland’s effort to transfer the ball from the backcourt into the frontcourt with at least 18 seconds left on the shot clock.
“The last two games, we’ve had some runouts,” McMillan said.
But how long will the running last?
While Oden and Przybilla are out for the season, the Blazers will eventually have a center at the core of their lineup.
Moreover, Roy’s talents are best suited for a methodical, half-court offense. Roy can run the fast break, but it is not his best venue for success.
“That’s not what he does,” McMillan said. “That’s not the strength of his game.”
In addition, the Blazers have not been a fast-paced team during the McMillan-era.
Portland is the slowest team in the NBA this season in terms of pace factor — defined as the average number of possessions per 48 minutes — and the same held true in 2008-09.
Factor in that the Blazers rank 27th in field goals attempted (77.8), 26th in field goals made (36.0), and 22nd in average points (97.9), and run-and-gun will likely never become a widely used term as long as McMillan is coaching the Blazers.
But a slight change is occurring as Portland attempts to sharpen its available weapons during a push toward the Western Conference playoffs.
Miller, who excels in the fast break, said teams that do not run are ones who often struggle on defense.
But that is not the case with the Blazers.
Portland ranks fourth in average points allowed (94.8) and is tied for third in average field goals allowed (77.9).
“These are young guys. Sometimes they want to get out and go,” Miller said. “It’s like being a kid and letting them go outside and play, really. But you’ve got to pick and choose when to do it. Some teams aren’t mature enough to be able to run like that, because they get out of control.”
Blake backed Miller’s viewpoint.
If the Blazers are allowing a multitude of fast, easy baskets, it becomes tough to run.
But when Portland is able to get stops, steals and long rebounds, offensive transition points normally follow.
Moreover, the Blazers have an athletic roster that appears to be ready made for running and spreading the floor.
“We have to be an opportunistic fast-break team,” Blake said. “We don’t want to take a lot of quick, bad shots that maybe some other teams might. … For us, we have to take advantage of those opportunities when we do have them.”
Blazers forward Travis Outlaw, who ran through a series of aggressive shooting drills Tuesday, said he hopes to be activated by March. The sixth-year veteran has missed Portland’s last 39 games while recovering from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot. Outlaw said his injury has healed well, but added that his foot has yet to completely fill in. “My leg still feels a little slow,” Outlaw said. “But other than that, it felt real good.” … Batum stated that he is comfortable playing as a reserve and backing up starting small forward Martell Webster. Batum is averaging 10.2 points and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 63.6 percent (21 of 33) from the field during five games since returning to the lineup following shoulder surgery. McMillan said he has considered making Batum a starter. But he is hesitant to do so, since another change in the first rotation will occur when Roy returns to the lineup. … Roy, who is recovering from a strained right hamstring, will not travel with the team to Utah. He is scheduled to be re-evaluated Thursday, and could play Saturday against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Rose Garden.
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Blazers vs. Jazz, 6 p.m. at Energy Solutions Arena
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Radio: 95.5 FM
Position/player Ht. Pts.
G Andre Miller 6-2 13.3
G Jerryd Bayless 6-3 9.5
F Martell Webster 6-7 10.8
F LaMarcus Aldridge 6-11 16.7
C Juwan Howard 6-9 5.6
Coach: Nate McMillan (5th season, 177-201)
G Deron Williams 19.0 6-3
G Ronnie Brewer 10.0 6-7
F Andrei Kirilenko 11.9 6-9
F Paul Millsap 11.2 6-8
C Mehmet Okur 12.3 6-11
Coach: Jerry Sloan (22nd season, 1071-648)