The NBA All-Star weekend has come to an end as NBA teams prepare for upcoming pivotal games to secure a spot in the 2015 playoffs.
Players Wesley Matthews, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge represented the Portland Trail Blazers at the All-Star game. Matthews made 22 points in the three-point contest, but fell short in qualifying for the final round. In the All-Star game, the Western Conference beat the East 163-158, and four time All-Star Aldridge contributed 18 points, while Lillard scored 11.
The Blazers are 36-17, identical to their previous 2013-14 record. This may seem poor at first glance, but multiple injuries have cost them several games. Three of the five starters – Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez and Aldridge – have missed a combined total of 36 games. During the previous season, all five starters played up to the All-Star break.
The team has made some essential changes; Coach Terry Stotts prefers players to sprint back on defense, rather than crashing the offensive board. In addition they have limited perimeter shooting from opponents. The results mark them as the second best defense in the league.
Last year, the Blazers were known for their lack of quality bench players and heavy dependence on the starting five. As of now, Steve Blake and Chris Kamen have provided rest for Lillard and Lopez while C.J. McCollum, Thomas Robinson and Meyers Leonard have proven to be valuable in the midst of injuries. Lopez made his debut against the Utah Jazz on Feb. 3 after missing 23 games due to a broken hand.
Improving the offense and defense has placed the Blazers on the market as credible competitors, ranking them third in the Western Conference behind the Golden State Warriors and the Memphis Grizzlies.
Coach Stotts isn’t ready to talk playoffs quite yet, but the recent trade reassures the level of commitment to become championship contenders. On Thursday, the team traded Robinson, Will Barton, Victor Claver, and a lottery-protected 2016 first-round draft pick for Denver Nuggets Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee.
Both players add depth to the team’s bench. Afflalo is a strong perimeter shooter, averaging 14.5 points, and Gee’s strong defense prove the franchise is planning for the future.