If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is around, is anybody sure if it makes a sound? Conversely, if a brush fire breaks out and nobody notices, does the damage it wreaks touch anyone? Thanks to some hot shooting that's melting rims around the Association, the Trailblazers have been inconspicuously raging through the rugged Western Conference. But for some perplexing reason, they've done so with muted praise while depositing fireballs through the nylon like raindrops from the heavens.
Every summer in the Northwest, those rampaging fires caused by high humidity and bone-dry forests are brought to a halt by the region’s downpour of fall rain. Much of that accumulation stems from the two denizens of Portland’s backcourt making it rain from beyond the arc.
Golden State’s archers behind the arc are the darlings of the NBA’s most ardent fan mobs. Steph Curry’s sticky handles and Klay Thompson’s spot-up shooting are the fulcrum of a riveting offense which revolves around their unique perimeter scoring ability. Draymond Green, Marreese Speights , Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala obviously play their integral parts, but Golden State’s success spawns on the outside with the Splash Brothers.
Dub City’s playoff fortunes live and die by the trey. This season, the Warriors have ascended to the best record in the West through the NBA’s first trimester on the backs of Curry and Thompson.
For two consecutive seasons, Curry had the quickest trigger finger in the spaghetti western conference and Thompson rode alongside him like Dr. King Schultz flanking Django.
In 2013, Curry set the league’s single season record for made threes in 78 games and last season, finished a dozen short of breaking the record in consecutive years.
This season, Curry’s percentages and frequency are down while Thompson is trending towards career-highs in points and three-pointing shooting percentage in the fewest minutes since his rookie season.
However, the Splash Brothers have a duel brewing with a pair that could feature the league’s premier downtown marksmen.
Doubts remain about whether the Splash Brothers’ jump shooting can be the foundation of a championship squad, that stem from the historical streakiness of outside shooting teams, but Portland’s Damian Lillard has already utilized his jump shooting prowess in order to suplex the Houston Rockets out of the playoff ring before getting cut down by the Spurs.
The next stage of their evolution is winning a second round series and getting a taste for the conference finals. Before they can do that, the Blazers are positioning themselves for seeding by securing the most wins in the league through the beginning of the New Year.
Lillard isn’t going it alone either. As of Dec. 30, he and Blazers swingman Wes Matthews are Nos. 1 and 2 in treys made.
Lillard has transformed into the middle ground between Russell Westbrook and Curry.
If you doubt his accuracy from deep, look no further than his Dec. 23rd duel with Westbrook.
Westbrook’s reckless disregard of gravitational pull and friction may have been the headliner, but Lillard connected on eight threes including a game - tying bucket, the end result of Lillard wrapping around a screen, sprinting towards the left shoulder, catching the inbounds pass and ripping the net from 26-feet away.
Lillard is not only athletic enough to have competed in the slam dunk contest, he could also sweep the Skills Competition and perhaps take gold at the 3-Point Shootout if he chose to expend his energy on an exhibition weekend.
Conversely, Matthews has taken up the role of being the Blazers chief of downtown commerce for the past six seasons.
Matthews has gradually seen his shooting percentage increase from 41 percent during the 2011-12 campaign to the smooth operating 47 percent shooter that's blossomed under Terry Stotts nurturing. Simultaneously, he's letting it fly from deep while making roughly 40 percent of his attempts every season. Mathews' three-point shot selection has seen incremental increases from 337 three seasons ago to 425 the next and 511 last season, which was fourth-highest in the league.
Want to guess who the three arc sharks swimming on the perimeter that were more bloodthirsty than Matthews behind the line are? If you guessed Curry, Thompson and Lillard, you have the necessary reading comprehension skills to pass the Floyd Mayweather Reading Challenge.
For some perspective, no other roster had a pair of teammates in the top 16.
Lillard plays the Curry role, giving defenders indigestion by creating, then knocking down high degree of difficulty shots, on the move and off the dribble. The Blazers get Matthews going by using an assortment of flare screens on the backside of defenders as Matthews backpedals, then lobbing skip passes to their stationary shooter in the corner.
As a team, the Hawks are the only unit averaging more catch and shoot points per game than Portland.
Matthews, who has scrapped his "three goggles" post trey routine and replaced it with a bow and arrow, is also one of the most skilled post-up guards in the entire league.
Obviously, this is all moot if the Blazers get the Rose Garden pumping in December only to get T-boned in the first round by San Antonio's old man strength, Dallas' perfectly symmetrical offense or Memphis' antediluvian Twin Towers model.
Portland's Rain Men put up their own impressive numbers without the aid of something the Warriors lack in LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers power forward is as much of a presence on the low block as he is with his soft touch from mid-range.
There's a debate to be made as to which is more valuable right now for Portland between Lillard and Aldridge right now, however, it's not a bad one to have while Golden State searches for a tinkers with an agglomeration of bodies on the low block.
Like Curry, Lillard also matriculated from a shadowy corner of the mid-major beast, but with a wet jumper, ice in his veins during crunch time and fire breathing athleticism.
With that combination of fire and ice, no wonder the league took to calling him Dame of Thrones after he snatched the hearts from Houston in Game 6 of their first round series win.
Matthews, on the other hand was a four-year starter at Marquette, who picked up back-to-the-basket skills because of the team's height-challenged roster. Thompson and Matthews' also share a link as sons of a pair of teammates on the Lakers' two-peat teams in the 80s.
Amazingly, both Matthews and Lillard may be snubbed from the West's All-Star roster. After the first round of voting, Lillard is eight among guards and Matthews isn’t within earshot despite his two-way ability.
Matthews won't be as egregious of an omission. But Lillard, may be a casualty of the Western Conference's hoarding of great point guards from Chris Paul to Curry, Westbrook, Mike Conley and Rondo.
On Dec. 27, 2013, the Blazers held the league’s best record, but couldn’t sustain it. They finished the season 30-23 over the final 53 games and earned a modest fifth seed.
Much has been made of Splash Brothers and Company's defensive leap forward, but Portland has made the most dramatic improvement from 16th in defensive efficiency to their current standing as runner-up in that category—to Golden State.
Defensively, the "other Lopez brother", Robin chases Aldridge with deft offensive skill with a shot of aggressive play and windshield wiping on the boards. The Blazers currently lead the league in rebounds per game.
Portland’s quest out west has gone unheralded, but the Blazers are a nimbus cloud playoff foes and prognosticators should keep an eye out for on their playoff forecasts.