We are just about to the halfway point of the NBA season. For the first half of the year, the Portland Trail Blazers are the equivalent to a virtual particle, their existence limited to uncertainty while popping in and out of being good and terrible. You may find it easier to predict the winning Powerball numbers this week than trying to predict the wins and losses for any future Blazers games.
As the second half of the season sits on the horizon, it begs the question, why are the Blazers so consistently inconsistent this season? Shouldn’t a team that has been together now for a few years be jelling together? Shouldn’t the chemistry be better?
The answer is yes and yes. So, what are the reasons behind Portland’s perplexing season? Glad you asked! Here are three reasons why the Blazers are struggling to find consistency and three solutions to fix it.
Better Defense, Worse Offense
So far, the one constant bright spot for the Blazers this season has been defense. Yes, you heard me right. Defense. Currently, the Blazers rank in the top 10 in team defense, and have been a top-five defensive team for a good portion of the season. But, has all the effort expended on the defensive end led to reduced production on the offensive end? Probably.
It’s like when I ask my daughter to clean her room and when she does she is spent for the day, exhausted from a task she rarely is forced to do. Likewise, it takes a substantial amount of energy and focus to put in 48 minutes of defense, so it should come as little surprise that the offense has suffered a bit. But, falling all the way to 20th in the league with the likes of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in your lineup? That seems a little steep. So, something else must be askew.
Portland’s defense has no doubt been one of the more pleasant surprises, but its reduced production on offense as lessened the euphoria.
Solution: The Blazers need a reliable third option on offense. Portland misses a player like Wesley Matthews and haven’t had a weapon like him since he left. Lillard and McCollum can’t shoulder the burden on offense alone while trying to up their game defensively.
We haven’t had Nurkic fever in a while, so the 1-2-3 punch everyone was expecting with Jusuf Nurkic hasn’t come to fruition. In fact, Nurkic may be very well be the reason for Portland’s shaky offense. He hasn’t been the reliable weapon the Blazers were hoping for and as Nurkic struggles to regain that look and feel from last season, so too does Portland’s offense.
Nurkic has shown signs of late of being that guy, again. We may forget he is only 23 years old in that massive frame, so it would be a good bet to be patient with him. His upside is still tremendous and hopefully the second half of the season brings us that fever we all wish we had.
Remember when Mo Harkless was allergic to making any impact for the Blazers when he was on the floor? Now, he’s having a bit of a resurgence, returning to the days when we saw glimpses of him being a key cog in the Blazers’ future.
The Bosnian Beast has been up and down all season.
Al-Farouq Aminu missed a short stint of time, but since coming back has been a much-improved shooter to go alongside his stalwart defense.
Lillard has been hurt and is still day-to-day.
Rookie Caleb Swanigan made an impact early but has been grounded to the G-League.
Meyers Leonard has found the dog house once again, while the other rookie, Zach Collins, is showing flashes of brilliance that Leonard rarely showed.
— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) December 31, 2017
All of this together paints a wildly inconsistent rotation for the Blazers. It’s hard to have consistency on the floor when your rotation remains wildly out of sorts.
Solution: If Shabazz Napier can come off the bench and keep producing, it will come a long way into helping Terry Stotts solidify his rotation. For the backcourt, anyway. The frontcourt, however, continues to be anybody’s guess. Leonard? Harkless? Collins? Swanigan? Jake Layman? Guy in the second row?
Stotts has been just as unpredictable with his lineups has the players have been playing in them. As the playoffs draw nearer, he needs to settle in on a rotation, anything resembling stability. Players are creatures of habit far more than what we give them credit for, but at the same time it’s up to the players to show some confidence and consistency for Stotts to stop tinkering with his rotations. In the easier said than done category: the players just need to just play better more often.
Home and Road Fortune Reversal
The Blazers are 10-10 at home and 12-9 on the road. Anyone see that coming? The strangest development has been the uneven play of the Blazers at the Moda Center. As mentioned before, they lost six consecutive games here in Rip City. It has been a mixed bag of lethargic play and head-scratching losses at home. Perhaps, it’s all due to those horrid red uniforms. But one factor is clear, no visiting team fears going into the Moda Center these days.
Solutions: Going to Blazers games used to be the best community event in Portland, a religious experience with no equal with the best NBA aficionados in the world.
Teams used to fear coming to Portland because we were the loudest, most enthusiastic fans in the league. It was as if the whole building was alive and vibrant, the very beating heart of Portland at center court. That needs to be true again. We need some of that old magic back.
We need to move the team back into Memorial Coliseum.