Blazers look to be tougher near hoop

Defense shows improvement but still has way to go

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers writer

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Through four games, the Portland Trail Blazers have had stretches of great play on both ends of the floor.

However, one trend appears to be more of the same from last year. Portland's opponents have been getting to the rim and scoring in the paint.

"We're still giving up too much at the rim," head coach Terry Stotts said. "That's similar to last year. We're giving up too many shots at the rim and they are converting at a high rate so that's similar to last year."

The scoring at the rim is similar to last year, but there is one bright spot. Portland's pick and roll defense has not been as egregious as last season, when it seemed every opposing big man would roll to the hoop for a dunk.

"There's always room for improvement," Stotts said. "Our half court pick-and-roll defense has been consistent in all four games. You look at the points in the paint, shots at the rim, those come in a lot of different situations."

Those "situations" that have hurt the Blazers are points in transition, points coming from putbacks and basic individual defense.

"Yeah I mean we got to get back on defense," said forward Nicolas Batum. "Sometimes we try to go to the offensive rebound and we leave the floor open to the fast break."

Batum added that the Blazers must be better at communicating defensively in transition when guys are matched up on players they don't normally guard in half-court situations.

"We have to communicate sometimes especially when you have those guys, sometimes we got lost," Batum said when talking about transition breakdowns against Houston.

Damian Lillard says that everybody on the perimeter, including himself, shares the blame for not getting back quickly enough.

While Portland has allowed the most attempts at the rim per game in the league thus far and ranked 28th in defensive efficiency, Portland has taken some baby steps compared to last season.

Portland is happy with the way they've defended the three-point line and forced more midrange jumpers.

When looking at opponent's effective field goal percentage, a metric that includes the value of three-point shots, the Blazers are about average and rank 18th in the league, an improvement from last season when they were 26th.

"Right now, we're evolving," said Stotts.

Neither Stotts nor his players are happy with their defense overall by any means.

There is still lots of basketball to be played, more possessions to defend and some dust that still has to settle before anyone can say that there is no hope for a defense that is still very much a work in progress.