The All-Star break is officially over, and the second half of the season is getting underway in the NBA. The first half for the Portland Trail Blazers was really fun, really bad, and quite boring at times. In all honesty, I was more interested in the Russell Wilson trade rumors during the last stretch of Blazers games there.
The Blazers started the year off better than we expected. But key injuries have really held this team back, and they are missing staples on their floor. It seems like year after year, it becomes the “how much can Dame do tonight,” and after a while, it seems like it just isn’t fair for the guy.
He has been without CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic. McCollum has not played since January 16, and Nurkic hasn’t played since January 14. These two being off the floor has really stretched this team thin, and they are way too valuable to miss more time and then expect the Blazers to continue to be good. It sounds like McCollum has been cleared for practice, and maybe he can return sooner rather than later. Nurkic had a pretty straightforward injury, but he continues to be evaluated. If you ask Dame Lillard about these two, he knows how important it is to get them back in the lineup.
“I think we had a really solid first half of the season, and now we just have to make sure that even when we get closer to full strength, we don’t welcome them back and think that it’s going to be easy all of the sudden,” Lillard said following Portland’s final game of the First Half. “We’ve got to continue to be focused like we have been, trust each other and continue to add the same energy and focus that we’ve had. And I think if we continue to do that, we’ll be an even better team in the second half.”
When you look past those injuries, the other thing you have to address is how the Blazers finished the first half of the season. It was very up and down, but they finished on a powerful note. The valley they had to get through was going on a three-game road trip where they lost every single game; that was all a part of a four-game losing streak. But things got better as soon as they got home, and they went on a three-game winning streak. It was inconsistent, but thankfully they figured things out.
If we really look at those losing-streak more closely, there was one massive issue. The defense was truly atrocious. This isn’t to say that it has necessarily been good this season, but it was really bad during that stretch. They allowed 345 points over that stretch, and the three different teams were shooting a hot 45 percent from the floor. In that first game against the Suns, they allowed them to knock down 16 threes and shoot 48.5 percent from beyond the arc. Thankfully, they ended on a high note, which may bring some momentum into this second-half. They will definitely need it in the first game when they take on the, guess who, Phoenix Suns.
Some major keys will need to be addressed as maybe the most important areas of concern right off the bat. For one, the Blazers don’t actually score all that well from the floor. They rank just 28th in the league when it comes to field goal percentage, meaning they probably take way too many bad shots and get bailed out by the three, where they rank eighth in the league. But there are many positives on offense, including their ability to get to the line and grab an offensive board.
The real issue, as we discussed before, is with the defense. They rank 28th in defense efficiency; they allow the seventh-most points in the league while also getting out-rebounded sixth-most in the league. All in all, there are a lot of holes that the Blazers have got to fix before they can make that jump.
There are a few ways to fix that, and it has to be asked if the Blazers will make any deals before the NBA trade deadline. It sounds like they were, at the very least, calling about guys like Demarcus Cousins, James Harden, and Blake Griffin. It’s clear that a big man is on their list of possible targets. At the very least, they can use a good defender, and it seems crazy that they wouldn’t go calling on guys like Myles Turner, Patrick Beverly, or Larry Nance Jr.
Zach Lowe thinks that there is another target that Portland should target and would put them into deep playoff contention.
“They’ve been my favorite Aaron Gordon team forever, I don’t know if they have the goods to get that done but like why wouldn’t they sniff around Harrison Barnes, even DeRozan. But then you come into the fact that like with Lillard, DeRozan and McCollum that doesn’t quite work.”
That would be fun to watch. Gordon is a top-five defender in the NBA right now. He is a skilled scorer and a big-man presence that would be great to have as Nurkic works on returning. Having those two simultaneously would make Portland a very different-looking team as well.
They have at least a week before the deadline, and I think a lot of these decisions will come down to what the injury statuses are of McCollum and Nurkic and maybe even asking their star player what he would like considered. As usual, the Western Conference is as good as ever, and with teams like the Jazz and the Suns taking front-row seats this year, the Blazers will have to make a remarkable push this time around in the second half.