Blazers lay bare woes on defense

Coaches share data with players in quest to improve

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers writer

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TUALATIN, Ore. -- The Portland Trail Blazers' slippage on the defensive end has been notable since before Christmas.

During their 11-game win streak in November, they were a top-five defensive unit.

With them losing their share of close games in recent weeks, the Blazers have focused on their defense.

Part of that focus has been the coaching staff's decision to bring their poor defensive numbers, particularly in the first quarter, to the team's attention.

On the white board in the locker room after their Jan. 8 win against the Orlando Magic, there it was: the Magic's offensive rating, counted in points per 100 possessions, by quarter.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, and all coaches, have been using statistics for decades.

But now in the age of Big Data, there are simply more of them and the challenge becomes deciding which are the most useful and later on, what to show the players.

Stotts and his staff are bombarded with numbers on a daily basis, they have to make discretionary decisions on what they show to their players.

"I think it's important to keep it broad strokes," Stotts said.

Most of the numbers are just a different way to convey the same message.

"It's the truth," said guard Damian Lillard. "You have to pay some attention to it. All those things are so technical you can't get too much into it."

Lillard's comments present the challenge of being a player in that making basketball into math could cause player to overthink rather than playing with their instincts.

The Blazers know that they have been bad defensively, specifically at the start of games.

Now, the Blazers know exactly how bad it is and see what the result is of their process.

Looking at numbers and saying, "This is a problem" is not difficult.

Nearly halfway through the season, the difficulty for the Blazers coaching staff is identifying the why, followed by how to solve their problems.

With extended practice time, they have revisited their zone defense and Stotts remains positive about their ability to play better defense when the game is on the line.

Stotts has referred to the "post-holiday" part of the season as its own section before they head into the dog days in February and March.

The only question is will the time to "tighten up" and the awareness of where they stand defensively translate to better starts or if that question continues to linger as we approach the halfway mark of the season.