The most difficult thing about the Trail Blazers this season has been trying to figure out who they are. Are they the team that beat the Celtics in Boston and Cleveland at home? Or the one that got whipped at home by Orlando and fell behind Dallas 30-10 Friday night?
I'm not sure. But I really was surprised by what I saw Friday night in Moda Center.
The Trail Blazers did not defend as well, or in the same manner, as they'd been defending. All the aggressiveness we'd been seeing, the activity and energy on defense, vanished. Portland had given up an average of about 90 points per 100 possessions in the previous six games and on Friday allowed 120 per 100. And this against a couple of guards with very slim NBA credentials. The Blazers were back to their old defense -- the one where their pick-and-roll defense included the bigs laying back in the paint, allowing wide-open mid-range jump shots. And even more perplexing, Portland continued going behind screens on Dallas guard Yogi Ferrell, even as he was knocking down three-pointer after three pointer.
I understand if you have a scouting report that says he can't shoot threes. But after he hits four or five in a row, shouldn't you change your approach? Late in the game, Ferrell hit a back-breaking three-pointer when Al-Farouq Aminu, seemingly undecided on his responsibility, stood frozen about five feet away and did not close out on the shooter. I just didn't understand it. Ferrell had made eight of his previous 10 three-pointers and after that last one, finished the game nine of 11. And you don't get into his grill for a shot that big?
And on offense, this wasn't the same Portland team, either. Even Turner got hot in the third quarter and carried his team for a spell, but he stopped getting the ball. Then late in the fourth quarter, CJ McCollum heated up, scoring on three straight possessions and seemed poised to carry his team to a win. But he then went the next three and a half minutes without a shot until he hit that difficult, contested three with a half-minute left.
By that time, Portland's usually unselfish offense broke down into some one-on-one forays. One of the problems I've always seen with "flow" or passing-game offenses is that the ball sometimes doesn't get to the hot shooters. That's why at key points of a game it's often better to simply call a set play for a hot player than to just hope he ends up with a good shot out of a free-flowing offense.
None of this stuff reminded me of the way the Trail Blazers have been playing recently. I was very surprised. And with the upcoming schedule looking very difficult, I wonder what this team will do next.
Just as I have wondered that all season, I guess.