Despite securing the win on Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Portland Trail Blazers are concerning and giving me a permanent forehead wrinkle at 26.
I never get to frequent as many games as I’d like to each year, but I realize the importance of watching a team play in person and watching what doesn’t translate through a screen—there’s things you miss at home. Bill Simmons recently released his NBA Trade Value column and said, ”The beauty of basketball over every other sport is that, sometimes, you just can’t fully feel it until you see it in person.” When you’re at the game, there’s no announcer filling empty air, the network doesn’t decide which camera will keep you most captivated, and something about seeing a team move on the court from the same view all night can reveal body language that’s more enlightening than any post-game interview. And what I saw was a team in dire need of…something.
After a hot 10-3 start, the Blazers tapered off a bit—and then a lot. Going 5-10 in their following 15 games, the team dropped from their quick stint as the number one seed in the west to being out of the top eight out West entirely. The naysayers who were eager to write us off after last year’s playoff performance were able to reemerge from under their bridges with the rest of the trolls. While my knee-jerk reaction was to question Terry Stotts’ capabilities, I have since returned to most of my senses and realized that if I was working under Neil Olshey and an unfamiliar Paul Allen proxy who doesn’t have interest in sports; I’m not sure why I would expect a better support system.
The Blazers are on a small uphill climb right now, winning their last three games including this win over the Grizzlies and climbing back to the fifth seed as of today. But after watching them in person for the first time this year, I think their recent struggles are deeper than something a three-game win streak can cure, even if all of those teams are above .500 and making their own name for themselves. The ball was being passed too early or too late by the whole team, as if they didn’t know how fast they should be playing. But considering Memphis has pace so slow it’s comparable to The Walking Dead, I’ll give us the benefit of the doubt there.
The Blazers simply don’t look like they’re having a good time and the new additions of Nik Stauskas and Seth “the other” Curry look like they’re trying hard to make good impressions a team that’s never made a good impression itself.
Defense seemed to be a thing of the past for the entire league when the season started—it took 26 games before there was one where both teams were kept to under 100 points. But it was only a matter of time before teams started realizing that a good defense may give them the advantage.
The Blazers were no exception to this, but they have yet to catch up to what most of the league has figured out a little over two months into the season. The Blazers are allowing almost 110 points per 100 possessions, falling just below the middle of the pack in the league. I am most anxious to see this improve over anything, before sounding the ‘blow it up’ alarm (again) already.
The team that began the season boiling has been reduced to a quiet simmer on the back burner. While we’re warm enough now to keep the convection current moving, I worry our current heat source of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum won’t be enough to keep warm through the winter.