After winning 17 of their final 23 regular season games last spring to close out 2016-17, the Portland Trail Blazers had high expectations coming into the 2017-18 NBA season. With 11 of their first 16 game at home in the friendly confines of the Moda center, the Blazers hoped to get out to a fast start in the highly competitive Western Conference. That hope hasn’t materialized.
The Blazers have once again started off the season slow, stagnant and out of sync on both ends of the court.
So far, they are 2-2 on the road and 5-4 at home through 13 games – a disappointing and underachieving 7-6 overall, especially considering the great home schedule they’ve had to start the year.
Granted, they have lost some very close games where they had a chance to win late (MIL, LAC, UTA, MEM). But that is what good teams do, they find a way to win close games.
Perhaps what this team needs now is some time on the road, after an extended period of time at home to start the season. Everyone expected this team to have a better record at this point coming out of the gate, and honestly they should be better.
But it seems like once again they have started the year out of rhythm and inconsistent on the defensive side of the ball. They just lost the Brooklyn Nets at home. THE SAME BROOKLYN NETS who were 20-62 last season.
Head coach Terry Stotts insists on his team switching the pick and roll time in and time out. That has ultimately cost them many times over the years, and even early on this season. An option is to double and force it out of the hands of the playmaker, or you can hedge hard and recover.
But switching, even with smaller lineups in today’s NBA game, still just doesn’t cut it. Switching Ed Davis or Jusuf Nurkic onto point guards late in games in an isolation situation just spells disaster. Ultimately, this will need to be addressed if they ever want to get better in late game situations defensively.
Portland relies heavily on their 3-point shot. So when they aren’t hitting the 3-ball, they normally lose those games. The ball movement and player movement off the ball hasn’t been there to start this season. That has to change for them to get better looks and help them get easy shots at the basket. Early on they are 29th in the NBA for assists per game, which shows how reliant they are on one-on-one play.
Whether that is Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum or Evan Turner, they have to do a better job setting up teammates. This ultimately comes back to the way this team is structured and how they don’t have high level shooters around Lillard and McCollum to help spread the floor.
Turner, Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu are not great outside shooters, yet they are all players the Blazers have invested in to play around McCollum and Lillard. They are all solid defensive players and versatile in that they can play multiple positions. But having guys around them that can just defend isn’t going to cut it, especially in the high powered West.
The good news is that it’s still very early in the 2017-18 NBA season, and Portland has finished the regular season very strong the last two seasons. But, at some point they will have to live up to the expectations they have established if they hope to once again make the playoffs next spring. They need to take advantage of this week’s schedule, which includes a home and away set with the lowly Sacramento Kings this weekend.
Finishing close games is something this team is still learning. Hopefully, this team is able to pull together some consistent defense and offensive rhythm soon as their early season home stretch comes to an end shortly. But then again, the road might be just what they need to figure themselves out.