Monday night I was able to meet and talk to Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts. After our conversation I was struck with how charismatic Stotts is and I can see why players would want to play for him. He laughed, he joked, he seemed very carefree despite having the playoffs right around the corner and having members of the local media questioning his job security.
Stotts made a deep playoff run with the Dallas Mavericks that ended in a World Championship but as a head coach hasn’t yet made a playoff appearance. What are his goals? What is the team doing to prepare themselves?
The overwhelming theme of the conversation was “work.” Stotts talked a lot about Wesley Matthews and how he was such a work horse, how Damian Lillard had exceeded expectations, how this team loved to work and work together.
Talking about the playoff matchup against the Houston Rockets, the theme of work continued. For the most part, teams “are who they are” at this point in the season but Stotts talked about multiple adjustments the team plans on making before the playoff series starts on Sunday. He said, “We feel like we are playing good basketball right now, but are ready to work and get better as a team.”
Winning only one of the four games between the two teams is of concern to Blazers fans but is it of concern to the team? Absolutely not. Stotts said, in very plain terms, that the team felt like they should have won at least 2 of the games against the Rockets this year. And they feel like that gives them something to prove.
Defense has been a major concern for the Blazers the entire season and especially during the matchups with the Rockets. Both teams have seemingly scored at will against each other. Whichever team is going to go on and win this series is going to find a way to stop the other team’s two superstars. LaMarcus Aldridge/Lillard vs. Dwight Howard/James Harden.
Stotts addressed a couple different ways they could attempt to slow the offensive production of those two.
He talked about how they usually don’t double team but they need to be prepared to double team Howard on the block. This could be needed, depending on the situation. The problem with double teaming Howard on the block is that you leave shooters open around the 3-point line.
The way that Stotts said they need to prepare for Harden is to trap on the pick-and-roll. This could work if there is backside help on the block. This may actually work if the team is having problems containing Harden on the outside.
There are a lot of matchups that are going to get a lot of attention before the series started but Stotts pointed out, “Nic (Batum) has said he feels like his matchup with Chandler Parsons is going to be an important one in the series.” This pride as a team and individuals could be huge. If a player like Batum comes into the series with a chip on his shoulder, I anticipate he will be the aggressive wing player he can be. Batum will play a big role in this series because he will be called on to defend Harden a lot of the series.
Aside from the upcoming playoff series, Stotts seemed very optimistic about the future of this team and franchise. He talked very highly of young guys like Will Barton, CJ McCollum, and Allen Crabbe and said that no one even in the Blazers organization could have anticipated the progression that Joel Freeland made coming into this season. He said that these guys, aside from Freeland, may not play a major role in the playoffs but are putting in a ton of work and will have a chance to contribute in a major way come this offseason.
After talking to Coach Stotts, I am more optimistic about the first round matchup against the Houston Rockets but this is still a very tough matchup for the Blazers. Superstars win in the NBA postseason and the Rockets have two bonafide ones. If the Blazers can make things tough for Harden and Howard, this could be a very good series for the team from Rip City.
My predictions: Blazers in 7. At least 200 points scored by both teams in each game. Lillard is the MVP of the series for the Blazers. And injuries play a part in who wins.