The Portland Trail Blazers have been one of the NBA’s hottest teams the last few weeks and as a result, catapulted to the third seed in the Western Conference. Coming in with a 13-game winning streak, the Trail Blazers recently had a high profile game with the Houston Rockets — a possible preview of a key playoff matchup. The Trail Blazers almost eked out a win in which their two best players, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, did not have great games. Both Lillard and McCollum shot below thirty percent and failed to register a single three point shot between the two of them. The loss to the Rockets was followed up by another close loss to the reeling Boston Celtics.
With nine regular season games remaining and the playoffs on the horizon, Basketball Insiders caught up with Trail Blazers power forward Ed Davis, who shared his thoughts on a number of topics including playoff standings and potential matchups as well as stretch big men and the evolution of the team’s offense.
On the topic of playoff seeding and watching the standings on a daily basis, Davis was quite candid.
“For sure we keep track,” Davis revealed. “You look at the scores, every team does that.”
Going into Sunday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Trail Blazers were not just looking to avoid a three-game losing streak, they were also trying to hold Oklahoma City at bay as the Thunder currently hold the fourth seed in the West, just behind the Trail Blazers.
“[W]e’re in a spot where we control our own destiny. We don’t have to sit back and hope this team wins or this team. We can just sit back and just watch and be like, ‘Oh they lost, oh they lost,’” Davis said. “We control our own destiny and that’s a good feeling.”
The Trail Blazers came out with the win and are now two games ahead of the Thunder and as David said, the team controls its own destiny.
Davis also had a lot to say about the perceived value that stretch bigs add and the costs that come with having a team’s big man play that way.
“When you got a guy that’s spacing the floor, you are getting that spacing but you are giving up other stuff. You’re giving up offensive rebounds and a lot of guys that are stretching the floor struggle, they struggle on the defensive end, so you’re giving up that,” Davis stated.
Davis provides intangibles off the bench for Portland and has played in every game this season. On the season, Davis shoots 70.1 percent of his shots from 0-3 feet and almost all of his remaining shots (26.3 percent) come from 3-10 feet, per basketball-reference. Obviously, Davis is not a stretch-big, but he is a solid role man who, according to many advanced statistics, brings significant value to the Trail Blazers. As a more traditional big man, Davis has his own opinion on the evolving role of NBA bigs.
“It all goes by team needs, but energy guys, rebounders and guys who play hard are always going to have a place in this league no matter what. Stretch bigs, you never know if that’s going to be a trend or a couple of dominant bigs come around, it might go back to more of a back to the basket, throw it into the paint,” Davis told Basketball Insiders. “The NBA is a trend man, so whoever the hottest team or the team that is doing all of the winning, that’s who you got to pretty much build your team around.”
Some of Davis’s best play comes alongside stretch big man rookie Zach Collins. Earlier this season, Collins spoke highly of Davis as a teammate and mentor. While their styles of play may contrast in significant ways, they both bring a lot of value to the Trail Blazers on the court. As previously mentioned, some of Davis’ true value can be sussed out through advanced statistics, however, don’t ask him for an explanation of these metrics or what they say about his game.
“No, I really don’t look into those things just because there’s so many different stats and all type of stuff. So, I just play whenever I’m out there and give it my all,” Davis stated.
For NBA and Trail Blazers fans who noticed the team’s slow start to the season on offense, Davis also offers an explanation.
“We said coming into the season, coming into the training camp, that it’s going to be defense first and that’s going to be our primary focus and that’s what it was. We set the tone with that. Our offense wasn’t rolling exactly how we wanted it to early on, but it came around and we’re in a good spot right now,” Davis said to Basketball Insiders.
The team was 26th in offense in November and 27th in December before catapulting to third in the month of January. For the season, the team is currently ranked 14th in offense, per nba.com.
Looking again at the playoff picture, Davis spoke deferentially about the Rockets and the Golden State Warriors but also made it clear there are no push overs in the Western Conference.
“I feel like all the teams in the West feel like they can beat each other. I feel like Golden State and Houston obviously separated themselves. But I feel like three through 10, everyone thinks that they can beat each other and that’s how it should be. But obviously, when you really start to look [at it], there are certain teams you match up better against, and certain teams you don’t,” Davis said.
However, Davis wasn’t finished there and pointed out the uphill battle any opponent would face in a playoff series against the Trail Blazers.
“But all of these teams, they know what we got and they know how tough it is to guard C.J. and Dame, definitely in a seven-game series,” Davis said.
While the Trail Blazers have not yet clinched their playoff berth, the team is in great position. They are ending the season about as well as any team in the league and are likely to hold onto home court in the first round. Portland may have gotten off to a slow start this season but they are primed to make life difficult for any team they face in the postseason.
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