Switching it up: The Rockets defense led to the Blazers stagnation

Switching it up: The Rockets defense led to the Blazers stagnation

HOUSTON – The Trail Blazers finished with a season-high 28 assists on Monday night, but yet watching the game you might not believe that.

After the 132-108 loss to the Rockets, the Blazers explained how their offense went "stagnant."

Just as the Rockets do, they switched on nearly all screens against the Trail Blazers. And as many opposing teams often do, Houston tried to take  Damian Lillard out of the game.

Early in Monday night's loss, the switches opened up the lane for Nassir Little and Hassan Whiteside. Yet, the Blazers weren’t able to continue to take advantage of those mis-matches.

“They played their game. They played a good game. I think we could’ve done a better job, but give them credit. They did what they do. They got up a lot of threes and really hurt us on the offensive rebounds… They made us stagnant a little bit offensively because they switch a lot. We’ll be better prepared for it next time.” -- Rodney Hood

On the season, the Trail Blazers are averaging 18.6 assists per game, which ranks dead last in the league. 

Damian Lillard was dropping dimes against the Rockets, however. He finished with 13 points, 11 assists, and six rebounds.

Lillard leads the Blazers in assists with 7.1 per game, which is actually 10th best in the league.

Lillard acknowledged he was able to get those assists by the Rockets switching.

 “Usually when a team is switching, you end up getting bigs matched up on guards, and naturally you’re gonna try to take advantage of the match-up,” Lillard said. “Early, we were throwing it into Whiteside when smaller guys were on him, and then other times when a big was on me, or CJ, or Hoodie, we were attacking the bigs. But, when you’re up against that, there’s ways to take advantage of it with still having movement and moving the ball… Instead of just playing one-on-one. It did get stagnant.”

Lillard had a tough night shooting, going 4-of-15 from the field and just 1-of-6 from deep, so he got involved in other ways.

CJ McCollum, however, remained hot from the field, a carryover from Saturday’s game in San Antonio.

McCollum shot 10-of-19 from the field, while also hitting five of his 12 three-point attempts vs. the Rockets. He led the way with 25 points. 

Despite shooting well, McCollum agreed there wasn’t much movement at times.

“They switched everything and it makes it hard to play offensively and then you get into playing one-on-one.”

The Trail Blazers will now look to bounce back on Tuesday night when they visit the New Orleans Pelicans, who are currently 4-9 on the season.

Hassan Whiteside's big night leaves Trail Blazers pondering

Hassan Whiteside's big night leaves Trail Blazers pondering

DENVER – Staring off into the distance sat a Trail Blazers big man who looked deep in thought after Thursday’s game.

It was Trail Blazers center Hassan Whiteside, sitting there with his knees wrapped in ice and both feet ankle deep in a bucket of ice – that’s the norm for the Trail Blazers 7-footer.

But something was different. 

After the Nuggets defeated the Blazers by 15 points, Whiteside sat alone looking as if he was searching for answers. Pondering. 

In the first and third quarters in Denver, it was really all about Whiteside’s dominance at both ends of the floor.

Despite the big fella going off for a career-high 33 points, he was trying to figure out why his team didn’t come away with a win.  

There’s stretches when we look amazing and then there’s stretches where they go on big runs… They was hitting threes, they was making us pay, and we would over help, and that’s pretty much what happened. -- Trail Blazers center Hassan Whiteside postgame

Whiteside’s 13-point first quarter on 6-of-8 shooting and six rebounds helped the Blazers keep pace with the Nuggets early on.  

He also hit his first and only three-attempt this season, punctuated with a dab (or three).

Trail Blazers fans may have been surprised to see him hoist up three, but Whiteside was ready for the moment.  

“I shoot them all the time [in practice]. So, when it is a situation like that I feel comfortable…. I hate when people always saying, "why you working on that? You don’t do it in a game." Well, maybe that’s why you work on it.”

It's obvious that Whiteside has put in the work this season, and he and Damian Lillard have put in the work together on the offensive end.  

Whiteside's performance didn't go unnoticed Thursday. 

Lillard, who shot just 2-for-9 from three, gave his big man props.

He had a great game. They put a lot of attention on the ball and he was coming open all night and he scored early, and all throughout the game he made those short floaters, he made some jumpers, made free throws, I thought he played a good game. -- Trail Blazer point guard Damian Lillard on Whiteside

“He looked good." CJ McCollum added. "He finished around the basket. He rebounded. I thought he took advantage of how they were guarding him in the pick and roll and he capitalized."

Whiteside is putting up career numbers across the board this season from points to rebounds to blocks. He became the first Blazer with 10+ rebounds in 10 straight games since Buck Williams Thursday night.

He believes the success has been there in the first part of the season because of Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and his teammates believing in him.  

“I got a coach playing me,” Whiteside said. “Coach has been playing me and letting me play out there. My teammates trust me and I worked on it all summer."  

Trust can go a long way.

But, now Whiteside and the rest of the Trail Blazers are pondering why they haven’t been able to put together a consistent game on both sides of the floor even if they are trusting each other. 

What beat Blazers?: Defense? Rebounds? Bench? 3-point shooting? Or just effort?

What beat Blazers?: Defense? Rebounds? Bench? 3-point shooting? Or just effort?

If you knew ahead of time that Hassan Whiteside was going to outscore All-NBA center Nikola Jokic 35-20 and Carmelo Anthony would outscore Blazer killer Paul Millsap 20-6, wouldn’t you figure that the Trail Blazers would have a shot at defeating the Denver Nuggets, who were on a three-game losing streak?

Well, no. But I think you would have thought they wouldn’t lose by 15.

But that’s what happened in Denver Thursday night, when Portland was drubbed 114-99.

And like so many NBA games, it all turned on three-point shooting. The Trail Blazers shot a solid 47.7 percent from the field but just 30 percent from three (9-30) while Denver connected on 50 percent of its threes (18-36). In other words, the Blazers were outscored by 27 points from distance

That’s especially lethal when you’re getting pounded 15-7 on the offensive boards.

It was a game the Trail Blazers were in on all the way to the end of the third quarter, when they went into zombie mode. With 2:47 left in the period they trailed just 79-78. But the Nuggets rattled off the final 10 points of the quarter and never looked back.

Part of that can be blamed on the Portland bench, which played a total of 62 minutes and scored just nine points – all of them by one man, Anfernee Simons.

But the starters could be blamed, too. The Trail Blazers got a solid 62 points from their starting frontcourt of Anthony, Whiteside and Kent Bazemore but a combined 28 from their starting guards, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who were averaging 48.8 per game coming into this one.

“I know Whiteside hurt us,” Denver Coach Mike Malone said. “But when you can hold that backcourt, Portland’s starting backcourt, to 28 points (and) only three free-throw attempts… I thought our defense on Dame and CJ was terrific.”

And while holding down Portland’s guards, the Nuggets were piling up the threes at the other end.

“A lot like Game 1 (of the season) they made 18 threes and they made 18 threes tonight,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said. “To me, that was the difference in the game. Some of it was on us as far as leaving shooters and not contesting as much and some of it was on them for moving the ball and finding the open man.”

Lillard said, “We just didn’t have enough pressure on the ball. We let them get too comfortable out there. They’re a passing team. If we had had more energy and effort, like I said after the last game, we could have limited what they do. But we were back on our heels.”

This Trail Blazer season is going south fast. Energy and effort have been an issue recently and you have to worry about it becoming a chronic problem.

The Halloween candy was still in the wrapper the last time Portland beat a team with a record above .500. The Trail Blazers are now 1-9 vs. teams with a plus-.500 record – and that win was on Oct. 27.


Listen to this week’s Talkin’ Blazers podcast here: