The basketball season is back and the city is starting to buzz with excitement, anticipation and expectations.
The Portland Trail Blazers are getting things rolling with media day and training camp. After such a drought of basketball, the media and fans are in a feeding frenzy. For each of the last few days, the players and coaches have been bombarded with all types of questions. There does seem to be a general theme: defense.
After a season of well-documented defensive struggles, the front office turned their attentions towards obtaining a defensive center to go along with the rest of the young, talented roster. This summer saw the team acquire all kinds of talent through separate methods. Robin Lopez came to the team in a trade which the Blazers gave up very little. But bringing in one player can't turn this team around to being a defensive juggernaut.
When asked about his defensive expectations, Coach Terry Stotts said, "That's going to be the No. 1 priority. For us to do what we want to do this year, we have to improve defensively. We're going to change some of our schemes; we’re going to change our emphasis, our mentality about it. Our offense is going to get better but for us to do what we want to do this year; there's no question we have to make large, long strides with our defense."
The attitude of the coaches is obviously contagious. Wesley Matthews realizes how important defense is and how important Lopez will be for the team's defensive approach. "When you've got a guy like Robin behind you in the paint, you can take more changes, you can play more on instinct. That's a big part of how I play defense. I've been, not necessarily shackled as far as how to play defensively, but I'm big on instincts. [Nicolas Batum] is big on instincts. If we see a gap, we feel we'll be more confident shooting that gap rather than trying to play it safe and potentially get picked off and beat. We're playing against pros, they're getting paid millions of dollars to try to score on us, same way we're trying to stop them. [With Lopez,] we'll be able to make our reads knowing that it's not going to result in a lay-up."
All reports coming from the first couple days of training camp have been that the team is playing very competitive defense. Having more depth on the roster will lead to more competitive and athletic practices throughout the season. This will help to bolster the defensive intensity from practice into the games.
I catch myself falling into the high expectations held by the fans across the country. This mainly comes from the fact that you hear all the right things coming from the team so far. But in this league talk is cheap. Come October 30th, we'll know a lot more about the mindset and progression of this team.