The Portland Trail Blazers have a winning record and would have a spot in the playoffs if the season ended today. Can they keep it that way?
Much of their success so far this season had come on the defensive side of the ball. Before they played the Milwaukee Bucks last week, the Blazers had the second-best defensive rating in the league. But considering they allowed 108.5 points per game last season, not everyone expected the shine to stick.
Wes Goldberg recently wrote about the highs and lows of the defense in Portland (via Fan Rag Sports):
“The Trail Blazers are still prone to slumps on defense, as are every team, but those are fewer and farther between than in years past … Portland probably won’t maintain the second-best defense all season, but it has undoubtedly improved. If there is a regression, it won’t be to the level of last season. The Trail Blazers have found a formula that works for them.”
Portland has had the second-easiest strength of schedule so far this season. And after the hot start, the defense began to slip up. They fell to the Bucks and then to the Pelicans and Wizards.
During their last three games, Portland has been outscored by 13.3 points per 100 possessions. This is the worst mark in the league during this stretch.
Part of the reason why their overall net rating has been so poor and deflated recently is that they allowed Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal to score 51 points.
But it’s much more than an isolated incident to just one player. Over the last three games, Portland has averaged just 4.3 steals per game (worst in the league) and allowed defenders to shoot 5.9 percent better from three-point range (worst in the league).
Opponents are shooting 4-of-5 (80.0 percent) on three-point attempts from the left corner over the last three games, which is the worst defense against this shot type in the NBA in this stretch. Beal did not attempt a single three-point attempt from the left corner during his incredible performance.
Now in the midst of a three-game losing streak, the Blazers will next face two of the top offenses in the NBA.
Damian Lillard spoke about what the team needs to do to improve (via OregonLive.com):
“We’ve got to play like we’re somebody, you know what I’m saying. We’ve got to have some swagger about it. We’ve got to have that confidence and we’ve got to play the kind of basketball that allows us to feel that way, myself included.”
Lillard, who has been a legitimately impressive defender this season, will need to help his team refind what made them successful to start the year.
Otherwise, they could slip to a five-game losing streak and hurt what was a confident young core.