INDIANAPOLIS – So is this Trail Blazers’ defense for real, or what?
Portland on Friday night will get its best answer to date whether its defense is indeed new-and-improved when it plays at Indiana, which is coming off a 140-131 win over Brooklyn on opening night.
The Blazers’ defense looked great during the preseason, but Toronto played without DeMar DeRozan, the Clippers without Danilo Gallinari and Austin Rivers, and the Kings without four of five starters.
Then in the season opener, a 124-76 win at Phoenix, the Suns looked like a team that will vie for the worst record in the league.
It’s why coach Terry Stotts and the players have taken a cautiously optimistic approach when it comes to crowning the Blazers’ D as rehabilitated from last year’s disaster.
“It’s one game,’’ Damian Lillard cautioned after the Suns win. “I was happy to see it carry over. From camp, to preseason, then come the first road game, we did it again. We showed what we can do if we are committed to the defensive end.’’
While the Pacers figure to be a middle-of-the-road team in the East, they will be a better test than the rebuilding Suns. Plus, behind guards Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo and Corey Joseph, the Pacers are emphasizing a fast-paced approach under coach Nate McMillan.
“Nate has done an unbelievable job of letting us take the onus as point guards, and kind of let us run the show,’’ Collison told the Indy Star. “He was a point guard himself. He knows what it’s like to let us see the game, instead of micromanaging every single play. If we can play like that, call a guard game, play with one another, we will be all right.’’
The Pacers’ 140 points was the franchise’s opening night record, and if there has been a soft spot in the Blazers’ defense during the preseason and the opener, it has been in transition.
But the Blazers have been as active and connected as we’ve seen since the days when Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez vaulted Portland into the Top 10 in defense.
Stotts has repeatedly referred to this defense as “alert” and “focused” and on Wednesday in Phoenix the trio of Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu on the perimeter was as imposing collection of arms and length as I can remember from a Blazers team.
So another game, another test to see whether the Blazers really are ready to defend. Should be interesting. NBC Sports Northwest will carry the game at 4 p.m. with Rip City Live pregame show starting at 3 p.m.
Today's Blazers' links:
I wrote about Evan Turner and his defensive job on Devin Booker.
The Indy Star previewed tonight's game.
It's an Indiana homecoming for Pat Connaughton and Caleb Swanigan.