Friday Five’s (4.23 ➡️ 4.29)

Most teams have less than 11 games left on the season. In that, both players and teams are beginning to realize just what they have and where they rank as the playoffs loom.

1.) Portland Descending

(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

After enjoying a four-game win-streak to end March, where newly acquired wing Normal Powell ingratiated himself, the Blazers were expecting to replicate similar efforts through April.

Instead, this month proved to be extremely tumultuous.

Entering the month, Portland found solace in having nearly their full compliment of players back in rotation (sans Zach Collins) for a thorough stretch for the first time all season. They were, at the time, seeded 6th with a decent cushion between them and the Dallas Mavericks.

They would go *brace yourself* 5-10. Until this current two-game win-streak that they are enjoying, with matchup vs Brooklyn tonight on NBA TV, the wins came few and far in-between.

They would amass two separate two-game losing streaks, and a five-game losing streak (including back to back losses vs Memphis, who they would see in the Play-In Tournament should the season end today).

That ill-timed stretch could prove to be an indictment on their legitimacy for this season.

Lillard did miss three games in the month, in which they went 1-2, but they are lacking the ability to string together consistent play. This inconsistency spans across 48 minutes, as well as lingering on to a game-to-game basis, leaving them as one of the most confusing/disappointing teams on the season.

The majority of their issues reside in the defensive side. Quite honestly, when you look at their roster, it certainly suggests defensive struggles of some sort, but not nearly to this extreme.

Portland’s currently 29th in defense on the season, and are also bottom third in defensive eFG%, forcing turnovers, rebounds allowed, and free-throw attempts allowed.

They’re nearly bottom third in protecting the rim as teams shoot 64.7% (18th). Even more, the frequency at which opponents get to the cup vs them is alarming. Teams get up over a third of their shots (36.3% of their overall attempts) per game at the rim vs them, which ranks bottom of the league at 27th.

The Blazers are also bottom third defending in the mid-range, and are dead last in defending the corner 3 as teams shoot 44.1% from there vs them.

They are slow in changing ends from offense to defense, and quite simply lack the continuity and efforts needed for any semblance of success on that end.

Terry Stotts

Coach Stotts took over in the 2012-2013 season. After missing the playoffs his very first season, his team has made the playoffs each ensuing year, making for seven straight seasons. This season, potentially the eighth, looming now.

Consistencies from season to season, through countless renditions of this Dame-CJ led roster, have been that they are averaging an 18th ranking defensively per season, and are always bottom third in forcing turnovers.

I dislike the notion of blaming coaches for teams underperforming more often than not. However, in this instance, given the leash he’s been given, I feel as though it’s apt for him to receive most of the blame here.

As his position on the hot seat settles through the duration of their season, the changes they need to make to their roster exist past only addressing the coaching situation. I expect for them to be under a microscope heading into this off-season.

2.) Washington Wizards

(Photo by Geoff Burke/USA Today)

Winners of 9 of their last 10, including an 8-game win-streak, the Wizards gave now garnered the final Play-In Tournament spot in the East.

In this 10-game stretch, they’re +8.1 in PPG and have excused efforts collectively on the defensive end that hadn’t surfaced essentially all season.

During the win-streak, they were giving up 110.9 PPG, which was a -7.1 dropoff from their season average in points allowed per contest.

Also during this win-streak:

Russell Westbrook has a triple-double in eight games during this stretch, averaging 21.9 PPG, 13.6 RPG, and 12.2 APG.

Bradley Beal is averaging 32.9 PPG on 49.4/38.6/89.7 shooting, including a 45-point outing on Monday vs the Spurs.

Davis Bertans is shooting 42.2% on eight 3-point attempts a night.

They are clicking at the right time of the season and are finally seeing consistent string of impact from their potent backcourt tandem.

3.) Curry’s Crazy April

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

ESPNs Zach Lowe coined it best when addressing Curry as “A glitch in basketball.” That may be the most apt description of Steph, as he seems superhuman with his pyrotechnic-like displays of marksmanship.

What he just did in this past month was downright unfathomable. Yet when you take into account the rhythm and flow that he has played with for the entire season, as he jockeys with Bradley Beal for the scoring title, you begin to realize that such a performance is certainly possible for the not lethal shooter ever created.

4.) Seizing the Moment

(Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 44-18 Phoenix Suns have kept pace with the Utah Jazz since January.

Nearly stride for stride for stride, they have slowly chipped away at the early distance that Utah had compiled from the rest of the league.

Currently one game behind the Utah Jazz, with a 2-0 series lead on the season and the tie-breaker already garnered, the Suns can take sole possession of the best record both in the West and in the NBA tonight.

No time is better than for them, now, to ride their momentum and take ownership of the best record both in the West and in the league.

Having just won vs the Clippers Wednesday in an impressive win on ESPN, the did themselves a big-time solid in staving off the Clippers potentially one final time. The Clippers, the hottest team in the NBA since the All-Star Break, were on their heels for the better part of this portion of the season, however the results from Wednesday nights bout may have just created a tiering-off of the top two seeds from the third seeded.

Timely Clutch Play

An entity I’ve focused on with the addition of CP3 was Phoenix’s performance in close games.

They were 30-4 with leads heading into 4th quarters last season, but were only 16-21 in close games.

This season they are:

  • 19-6 in games within 10 points
  • 6-3 in games within 3 points

The trust that come with having a reliable player to both control pace and manage the most crucial portions of games, regardless of opponent, is downright invaluable. The dynamic to, also, flip the switch from game managing through floor generalship to taking over as a scorer is nearly unparalleled. It’s what make the greats, great.

The Suns did what they needed to do to attain said player in Chris Paul, and they are enow starting to reap the benefits of doing so.

They’ll be back in the playoffs for the first time since 2010-2011.

5.) Restoring Order

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Return no longer looming, LeBron James is on track and expected to return tonight at 9:30 CST. as the Lakers host the Kings.

The Lakers have went 8-12 without him.

What to Expect

After missing 20 games (nearly six weeks), the rust factor will certainly be in play as he not only regathered his touch and feel, but also re-establishes his wind and conditioning.

His re-integration, in performance, will likely be no different than that of Anthony Davis’, who returned last week.

It’ll be interesting to see, given the juncture of the season they’re at, if James is on a minutes-restriction of sorts. The absolute pressing need for chemistry to be built (or rebuilt) amidst their frontcourt rotation has to be the most prioritized puzzle piece for the Lakers to address.

With just 10 games remaining, the Lakers have the 11th toughest remaining schedule according to tankathon.

They are currently 36-26 and occupy fifth in the Western Conference.

What to Watch for This Weekend

  • The Suns and Jazz have a bout Friday night in Phoenix for the first seed in the West, and the best record in the NBA. Tipoff is 9pm CST on NBA League Pass. Season series is in favor of Phoenix, 2-0
  • The Clippers and the Nuggets matchup Saturday night at 9pm CST on ESPN for sole possession of the third seed in the West, as well as the overall tie-breaker should it come into play. Season series is tied 1-1.
  • The Nets visit the Bucks Sunday at 2:30 CST in a potential Eastern Conference Finals preview

*All stats and information used come directly from or unless stated otherwise, and are accurate entering play on 4.30*

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