The Blazers fell short in Los Angeles on Tuesday, falling to the Clippers, 117-97. Portland held its own early, but the wheels came off at the start of the second half.
Portland scored a season-low 17 points in the third quarter, while Montrezl Harrell did damage, scoring nine points in just a little more than five minutes.
Harrell's five-minute burst was a microcosm of the game at large -- Harrell did whatever he wanted, and no one could stop him. It also pointed to a bigger problem for the Blazers -- the team's lack of depth behind Hassan Whiteside at center.
The Blazers rely on Whiteside to be the defensive force in the paint. Outside of him, no one can lock down and block shots. Carmelo Anthony is not a defensive big, Nassir Little is still learning the ropes, and Skal Labissiere is more of a finesse offensive player and easily pushed around.
Portland has the guys they need to offer defensive help, but unfortunately, they are both wearing suits behind the bench. Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic are both great on the defensive end, but it will be months before the Blazers can hope to see them return to the court.
Until then, be prepared for more nights like tonight, where teams with good offensive bigs do damage against the second unit.
It wasn't just Harrell. Patrick Patterson scored 19 points off the bench as well, though most of his damage came from beyond the arc. In total, the Blazers bench was outscored on the night 66-30.
And no. This is not an article where we belittle the effort of guys like Skal and Little. To be honest, they have both played incredibly well given the circumstances this season. Neither one planned to factor into the rotation at the start of the season, but due to injuries have been thrown to the fire and asked to play much larger roles than expected. To that, they should be commended. Those two have already done more than expected, and we can't expect them to do more.
While Melo has infused the team with energy and helped revitalize the outlook on the season, he isn't the defensive presence the team needs. Outside of Whiteside, getting stops in the paint will be a challenge. Until Portland gets Nurkic or Collins back, they will have to rely on simply outscoring the other team.
Against the Clippers, you saw what happened when the offense sputters. This team can't afford off shooting nights while it treads water waiting for a Nurkic sized lifeboat.