Yes, it’s early in the season. The Trail Blazers have played only four games. But so far, in this little preview of the season to come, you’d have to say this:
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
After getting buried under a barrage of three-point field goals in a 128-105 defeat by the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night, the Trail Blazers sat 29th in the NBA in defensive rating. Sound familiar?
And in spite of a Monday night win over the defending champion Lakers, the Trail Blazers simply must find a way to get better at the defensive end -- even after the off-season addition of two terrific defenders -- Derrick Jones and Robert Covington.
The vow this season was to fix the defense, But at least at this point, it’s still in need of repair. Not just once in a while, but all the time.
The Clips made 18 of their 38 three-point shots and still managed to feast in the paint, scoring 52 points on 26 of 38.
When you aren’t defending from near and far, you are just lost.
You can plead it’s a small sample size, but the Trail Blazers were rescued in their win over Houston by CJ McCollum’s sensational offensive game and by Gary Trent doing the same thing vs. the Lakers.
“We're just coming off a really good defensive game against the Lakers,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “So, you know, I think it's early to say.
“We're four games in, We've had a couple of poor defensive games against some teams that move the ball, whether it's Denver in the preseason, or Utah, or in tonight's case, they did move the ball well, and that is difficult to guard.
“And, you know, we went into this game knowing that they had nine or 10 very good three-point shooters. It's a strength of theirs and I think it's how they get them. But I give credit to how they move the ball, and again they shot the ball well, so I think it's a combination of both (his team’s defense and LA’s offense). But it's a little early to say where we are defensively.
“After four games, rankings don’t mean as much as they do after 10 or 15 or 20 games.”
I would agree with that. But I don’t think you need to watch a lot of video of the Trail Blazers to see how many open threes they allow and how often opponents get penetration for easy baskets or dish the ball back out for open threes. And that has to change for this team to get where it wants to go.
The Clips had Portland reeling at halftime by nailing 14 of their 21 shots from long distance. That’s incredible.
Damian Lillard talked about “not being on top of our principles” and “our communication wasn’t as good as in the Laker game.”
“There’s going to be some good nights and there’s going to be some nights when we struggle,” said Lillard, who was 0-8 from three and 3-14 overall from the field. “But I think this is what you are seeing around the league for everybody. Nobody’s completely figured it out.”
Cannot argue with that. And the Trail Blazers certainly won't, either.