The Portland Trail Blazers had won four out of the last five games before Wednesday night’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Before this five-game stretch, they had lost five of the previous six games, four of which came on a lengthy east coast road trip. After poor play on the defensive end of the floor, the Blazers are giving up an average of 112.5 points per game. But in the last five games, the Trail Blazers have shown signs that it may be starting to figure things out and turning the corner away from bad defensive play.
Portland has given up totals of 130 (loss), 109, 92, 110 and 115 in their last five games. Last week the team had extended time off between games where it held practices focusing solely on defense and getting better at the things that have plagued them so far this season. They have adjusted their pick-and-roll defense by allowing their big men to be more aggressive in defending guards coming off screens. This has helped them create more stops on the defensive end, which will help this team win more ball games. Al-Farouq Aminu returned from a hamstring injury that caused him to miss 13 games, Monday against Chicago so that will be another added boost defensively. The Blazers are holding teams below their average which isn’t saying a whole lot but it’s a step in the right direction.
According to Joe Freeman of The Oregonian, after the Blazers road win at Chicago, Lillard said, “I think it definitely shows that we’ve grown over the past few games.”
If you recall, Portland was 9-14 at this point last season and they developed into a decent defensive team. Winning games is the key here. If the Trail Blazers can continue to improve on defense and allow the chemistry to grow in different lineups with time, this team will continue to win games. The team sits at 12-11 currently and is better than they were at this point last year.
Maurice Harkless has emerged as a consistent third scorer, something the Trail Blazers desperately need and his all-around game is a spark to this team. Evan Turner seems to be getting more comfortable with his new team; however, it’s yet to be seen if his play fits in with the style that this team plays.
Lillard added Wednesday, “Were ahead of where we were last year.”
December will test this team as they play nine games on the road and only six games at home. To make matters worse nine of those games are against teams with winning records. The Blazers are 3-9 against teams with winning records so far this season. That will have to improve going forward if Portland is going to be successful this season. Whether they are turning the corner or not will be determined in the coming weeks as December will challenge them in a variety of ways. The Trail Blazers play strong defensive teams like the Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs (twice), Golden State Warriors, LA Clippers and the Toronto Raptors. But their also playing teams that they should beat like Denver, Sacramento (twice), and Dallas.
The team appears to be turning the corner after a slow start to the season, but they will have to prove it against top level talent in the coming weeks to really break away from their early-season slump.