TUALATIN, Ore. — The Portland Trail Blazers are in the midst of their longest losing streak of the season and announced some more bad news at Monday’s practice.
LaMarcus Aldridge (left index finger sprain), Nicolas Batum (low back pain) and Chris Kaman (right shoulder strain) are all listed as doubtful for today’s game against the league-leading Golden State Warriors.
While the injuries are of immediate concern, there is a bigger problem that hangs over the Blazers that also must be addressed: their slipping defense.
“It’s important that (we realize) after 60 games, where we were and why we were there: It’s because of our defense,” said head coach Terry Stotts.
Damian Lillard was blunt, issuing a call to action.
“I think the effort has been there, but I think at this level you got to be able to play smarter on both ends of the floor,” Lillard said. “We’ve just made too many mistakes to defend at a higher level than we have. We just got to clean up and we gotta be tougher. It’s simple. It’s time to man up. Period.”
The Blazers had 10 active bodies on Monday, just enough for a practice.
“It’s a pretty simple practice,” Stotts said. “You have 10 guys to practice. You know, get things done, make it productive.”
Above all, the Blazers worked on their defense, particularly in one-on-one scenarios in addition to preparing for the Warriors. The message from Stotts’ perspective is simple.
“The message is to play hard,” Stotts said. “When you’re down, when you’ve lost guys to injuries, the best antidote is to play hard. As long as we do that and compete we always have a chance.”
Whether it’s playing harder or playing smarter, the Blazers’ defense needs to find a way back to something resembling its previous form.
Since the All-Star break, the Blazers have had a top-five offense, averaging 106.4 points per 100 possessions per NBA.com. But their defense has rated out as the 23rd ranked unit in the league in that stretch.
If we minimize the sample to just the last eight games, otherwise known as the post-Wesley Matthews portion of the season, it looks a little bit worse.
Portland’s defense has been the second worst in the league during the last eight games according to NBA.com.
“We maintained a top-5 defense throughout the season with (Robin Lopez) missing 23 games and (Aldridge) missed seven or eight games and Joel Freeland missed I don’t know how many games,” Stotts said, shying away from the excuse. “And those are arguably our three best team defenders. So, as much as we miss Wes it’s about our team defense.”
The Blazers offense has scored better than it has all season during this same stretch. For Lillard, he’s having flashbacks to his rookie season, which featured offense that was thrilling at times and defense that made a habit of flirting with disaster.
“When you see the ball going in you get confident that you can outscore a team,” Lillard said. “And I think that’s a step backwards from what we’ve become over the last two years. My rookie year we were like that. And on those nights we weren’t scoring a bunch of points we get blown out. I think we just gotta recognize that.”
Stotts said: “My concern is that we don’t relax because the offense has picked up. I know it takes energy to play both ends. But, I’m glad that we’ve been on a nice roll offensively. We want to continue that.”