The Trail Blazers can score with just about any team in the league.
They’re currently fifth in the league in scoring, registering 116 points per game.
That's not their problem.
The issue they face is their inability to defend on a consistent basis, giving up the eighth most points per contest at 114.5.
Defending their basket has been an issue all season, but with the playoffs fast approaching and the Blazers teetering between a play-in spot and a playoff berth, forward Robert Covington sees a noticeable difference with the team.
What is it? Urgency.
“How crucial of a time it is, everyone’s approach is different now,” said Covington after Tuesday's practice. “They understand the importance of everything now because of what we’re playing for. Guys are going to come out with a different mindset and mentality.”
That “mindset and mentality” Covington is alluding to happened a few games ago against the Pacers when Damian Lillard took the leadership of guarding Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon and held him to 0-for-4 shooting and two turnovers.
“I told CJ-- you take Caris. I’m going to take Malcolm,” Lillard said after the April 27th win. “We're going to set the tone of his trip off right. And we’re going to do it defensively, because if we do that against the shorthanded teams like tonight, we're going to run away with this game.”
The newfound thought process has been constant for him all season, as he is first in the league in total deflections (247) and second in deflections per game (3.7) behind Toronto’s Fred VanVleet (3.8).
When asked if the criticism of the Blazers poor defense resting on head coach Terry Stotts' shoulders was unfair, Robert Covington responded poignantly-- "Absolutely."
The players play the game and now it's crunch time.
Just two weeks ago, prior to the Blazers win streak, they were allowing 117.6 points per 100 possessions, which was not only the second-worst in the league, but was is the third-worst mark in NBA history.
They have improved that number to 113.2 points per game, which is still 29th in the league, but a considerable improvement.
Covington remains a bright spot for the Blazers as their best statistical defender outside of big man Jusuf Nurkic. He made All-Defensive team back in 2018, and this season, believes he’s “been up there with All-Defensive team in a lot of cases.”
“One thing I’m always going to take into account is defense,” Covington said. “No matter what, I’m always gonna go out there and do what I gotta do and leave it all out there on the court.”
Covington is one of the Blazers’ primary defenders alongside Norman Powell, who he spoke glowingly about regarding his legitimate two-way presence.
With the defense looking as good as the offense and the team going 8-1 in their last nine games, now is the time for the team to make that final push, although it’ll be difficult.
Only holding a 1.5 game lead for the Lakers for the sixth seed and half-game back of the Mavericks for the fifth spot, Portland will finish their season against the league’s elite in Phoenix, Utah, and Denver. The “mindset and mentality” Covington discussed will be even more crucial for Portland to stave away from being in the play-in tournament.