Besides injuries, one of the biggest storylines of the 2020-21 Trail Blazers season has been their inconsistent defense.
Following Thursday’s loss to the Phoenix Suns a lot was made about Portland's struggles on that end as well as the Blazers not making the Suns pay when they would double Damian Lillard.
As the Blazers get set to face the Minnesota Timberwolves in back-to-back games in Minneapolis this weekend, the Trail Blazers are once again discussing the emphasis being made in practice about their defense.
But now, Trail Blazers veteran and defensive leader Robert Covington revealed the team's latest goal of the Second Half of the season:
To sneak into the top 15 in the league on the defensive end.
Well, actually that’s the team’s goal, but his goal for himself and his teammates is even loftier.
“We’re a very good offensive team, but we know that we’re not going to be able to outscore everybody,” Covington explained following Friday's practice. “We know that we’re going to have to at some point get some stops and that’s what we put emphasis on.”
With the focus and attention on the defensive end coupled with the talent and personnel, Covington believes this goal is very attainable.
The 30-year old forward believes in his teammates will and determination to improve on that end of the floor and adds, “for me, to be on a team like this and have guys that are making that commitment to it -- it’s something that’s significant that’s going to allow us to go far in the postseason.”
Heading into Friday night’s slate of NBA games, the Trail Blazers sit in the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
And have the 28th worst defensive rating at 116.2.
“We want to be top 10,” Covington continued. “Coach put us as the top tier of the league, top half, but you know me, I want to put expectations of it, like we can be top 10 if we really commit to it. We can be top 10.”
And Covington knows what it takes to get there.
He was named All-Defensive First Team in 2018 during his last full year with the Philadelphia 76ers.
That was the year that the Sixers ranked third in the league in defense with a defensive rating of 102.0 in big thanks to Covington and his the Sixers anchor down low Joel Embiid, who was selected to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team that year.
“That’s coming from a guy who has been there before,” Covington said with a smile. “I want to put that pressure on guys so we can really do it.”
Covington also added that it’s up to him and Derrick Jones Jr. to set the tone on that end of the floor.
While Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts reiterated the team’s mission for the Second Half of the season.
Setting this type of defensive goal is nothing new for Coach Stotts and his staff.
Back in Feb. of 2017 when the Trail Blazers traded Mason Plumlee to the Denver Nuggets for Jusuf Nurkic a similar goal was made.
Right before the Nurkic trade, Coach Stotts challenged his team to become a top half defensive team.
And by doing so, that team was able to slide into the eighth and final playoff spot with a 41-41 record after holding a 23-33 record at the All-Star break.
Focusing on the defense now, Coach Stotts says, will “pay dividends for us down the road.”