The Trail Blazers are playing much better of late. And the six wins in their last seven games seems to indicate an improvement at the defensive end.
And that’s the case.
Now, keep in mind that the team’s offense has been on a tear, with three-pointers coming from all directions. The defense has not had to be perfect, or anything close to that.
But the defensive rating over the last seven games would rank as 16th in the league. Not enough to bring up the overall ranking of No. 29, but a big improvement and probably good enough, as we’ve seen, to sustain a team ranked sixth in offense.
The Trail Blazers’ most decorated defensive player, Robert Covington, was asked to explain the improvement after Sunday night’s win at Dallas.
“The biggest thing is trusting one another,” Covington said. “Our communication has gotten a lot better. We've done a great job of, you know, really emphasizing our defensive principles and really making a commitment.”
And without a lot of time to practice, the Trail Blazers have had to learn their new defense on the fly, game by game.
“The things we do have time to drill, these things we did very well,” Covington said. “But with having really no practices like that, you know, it's hard. So really, our repetitions are in the games, and we've gotten better and we hold each other accountable.
“That's the biggest thing we've been doing, is holding each other accountable. And we've responded very well.”
And a big asset has been a total team buy-in. The non-starters have shown a lot of energy and willingness to sell out at the defensive end.
“Everybody that stepped in has contributed significantly,” he said. “You know, tonight was a prime example of that. And over the last however-many games, we've been having phenomenal defensive games.
“But, like I said, we’ve just got to keep building. We’ve just got to keep doing what we've been doing and take it as a challenge every day.
“Different obstacles. Each day we face it with different opponents, so we’ve got to have the same mindset and that's what's gonna allow us to be great as we continue to build.
“Because the second half of the season is gonna be very crucial and we want to go into it with high intensity, and be very confident in what we've been doing.”
Keep in mind, this was the goal in the offseason, when Covington and Derrick Jones were added to the roster. The mission was to improve the defense and maintain the efficiency of the offense.
For seven games, it has looked possible. But the question now involves sustainability.
Will it last?