Blazers seek fix for their trust issues

Players agree on underlying cause of their six-game skid

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

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TUALATIN, Ore. — There must have been an echo bouncing around the walls of the Trail Blazers' practice facility on Wednesday afternoon.

As players offered their explanations why the team defense has declined so drastically over the current six-game losing streak, the vocabulary kept repeating.

"We're not trusting each other," Wesley Matthews surmised.

The same thought shared by LaMarcus Aldridge.

"I feel like lately we haven't been trusting each other," Aldridge concluded, "or overly helping each other on defense."

The lack of trust appears most evidently in the numbers.

During this stretch of six consecutive losses, the Blazers rank last in the NBA in opponent field-goal percentage (51.9 percent) and defensive rating (120.1), a statistic that measures points allowed per 100 possessions. Overall, the Blazers are struggling as a defensive-efficient unit, contesting with the slipping Golden State Warriors for worst in the league.

"We just got to get back to all the small things," Aldridge said. "Get back to trusting each other on defense and on offense."

Aldridge said the specific trust angle has not been broached during video sessions, and should not have to play over and over on a screen.

The Blazers already recognize the problems.

They have spent parts of the first half of the season dealing with them, and now the same pests have returned as the Blazers (25-29) have matched their longest losing streak of the 2012-2013 year.

"Our transition defense has gotten a little worse. That was one of the Achilles' heels early in the season," coach Terry Stotts said after Wednesday's practice. "Our pick-and-roll defense has been inconsistent. We have good stretches, but it's not as consistent as we need it to be."

The Phoenix Suns (18-36) may be a pushover in the league — the team with the worst record in the Western Conference — but against the Blazers, they epitomize the cyclical nature of the team's defensive woes.

The Nov. 21 game in Phoenix could be argued as the Blazes' poorest performance on defense. At the end of the 114-87 defeat, the Blazers ranked near the bottom or even dead last in several important categories, namely defensive efficiency and defensive field-goal percentage.

That loss embarrassed the Blazers to get out of the basement and slowly take steps in improving. "Slowly," of course, being the key word.

By the end of January, the team ranked 22nd in opponent field-goal percentage — still near the cellar, but progress — and 21st in defensive efficiency. While the Blazers entered the All-Star break on a five-game losing streak, the Tuesday night home matchup with the Suns should have stemmed the slippage. Instead, Phoenix's 15-4 advantage in fastbreak points and 50-percent shooting magnified the spiraling defense.

"Unfortunately, we're a young team so a lot of our defense is going to come from our offense," said Matthews, who did not practice on Wednesday along with the other starters.

Matthews continues to receive treatment for an injury which he clarified as a problem with his leg, not left ankle.

"If we score and play harder on offense, than we'll play harder on defense," he said. "That's where we have to mature and start every game off with a defensive mindset. It's all about trusting each other. L.A.'s got to trust that me and Nic will crack down when he goes and tries to block a shot. J.J. has to trust when he goes to block a shot that we're going to crack down and rebound. We have to trust that if we (the guards) get broken down, they're going to come over and help."

The teammate trust issue could be a start, but Stotts also believes the Blazers could revisit the fundamentals.

"My message to the team is getting back to the basics of competing and getting better," Stotts said. "You can try to change it up, but I think a lot of times it just comes back to doing the basics better."