Trail Blazers

Anatomy of an 0-3 Trail Blazer road trip: Are there signs of adjustment problems?

Trail Blazers

Time for a few observations about the recently completed three-game road trip that featured stops in Phoenix, Denver and Los Angeles.

The Suns, Nuggets and Lakers are well-coached, quality teams and games against those teams can teach you things about your own team. And a team should always learn from losses.

A few thoughts:

  • In third quarters, which were frequently a problem last season, the Trail Blazers scored 17, 21 and 19 points. Their opponents scored 37, 21 and 31.
  • As said, this is not a new problem and it’s difficult to look at such things without wondering if it can be attributed to adjustments – the ones made at halftime by opponents or the ones NOT made by the Trail Blazers.
  • Friday night in Los Angeles, Damian Lillard scored 24 in the first half. Laker Coach Frank Vogel knew he had to do something to slow that down in the second half or his team was going to get beat.
  • The Lakers came out after halftime blitzing Lillard and double-teaming him whenever it was possible. They completely sold out on him. Portland has seen this strategy for years now and still doesn’t always handle it well.
  • By running so many pick-and-rolls, the Trail Blazers invite opponents to blitz, trap or double-team Lillard – whatever you wish to call it -- which is fine if they can handle the advantage of getting the ball out of the trap and playing four-on-three. Frequently, though, Portland seems uncertain in those situations and is plagued by turnovers. There were seven in the third quarter Friday.
  • When the pick-and-roll breaks down, the Trail Blazers often default to isolations – one-on-one stuff. That leads to a lot of one-pass or no-pass possessions that frequently conclude with a contested shot.
  • To be fair, when CJ McCollum is healthy, the default against the blitz is to dump the ball out to McCollum, who can often get a decent shot or make a play in isolation.
  • Portland is a good pick-and-roll team but is running it so much that the top-tier teams are seemingly able to lock in their strategy against it and do a good enough job of dealing with it.
  • What often seems the most aggravating part of this is that when the Trail Blazers try to blitz pick-and-rolls, which isn’t too often, their opponents seem to pick it apart very easily.
  • If it works against the Trail Blazers, it should also work for them.
  • There are some very good offensive players on this team, but I would think a less-predictable attack would be beneficial.
  • I see other teams running solid, unselfish offense, even down the stretch of tight games, getting players open with off-ball actions and movement, while Portland is asking Lillard to create quality shots against defenses stacked against him.
  • Lillard can do that, obviously, But it doesn’t always have to be that difficult. And night after night, he’s being asked to carry a heavy load – such as Friday when he played 42:16, including all but the last 46 seconds of the second half. But that’s a topic for another day.