The Trail Blazers opened the second half of their season Thursday night in Moda Center and it went a lot like the first half went.
Without much defense.
The Trail Blazers made the Phoenix Suns look like the 2004-05 Suns – one of the best offensive teams in NBA history. The Suns shot 59 percent from the field Thursday, including 54.2 percent from three-point range, in a 127-121 win over Portland.
And to shoot that well, you usually have to get some open looks, which the Suns got.
And this after the Trail Blazers kept pace with the Suns for nearly three quarters. In fact, Portland led 90-79 with 3:31 left in the third period before Phoenix closed to within 94-90 at the end of the quarter.
Then the Suns blew Portland away in the fourth 37-27 and it was that close only because Gary Trent nailed a meaningless three-point shot at the final horn.
“We had a lead and the lead kind of evaporated at the end of the third,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “And then we got off to a poor start at the beginning of fourth quarter. We had some empty offensive possessions that they were able to capitalize on.
“And, you know, it kind of snowballed from there. I was disappointed … We had a 13-point lead, I believe, in the first half and 10-point lead in the second half. And we didn't have it for very long. I thought we could have played a little better with the lead.”
The Suns have handled the Trail Blazers twice already with relative ease this season. And if Portland wants to have any sort of playoff run, this is the caliber of team it must defeat. The Trail Blazers would have fared better had they handled the Suns' double-teams on Damian Lillard a little better.
Lillard is seeing those double-team tactics every night now and Portland still isn't making teams pay for them the way they should. The Blazers missed open corner threes and failed to get the ball inside for layups or dunks.
Play better offense and the defense doesn't have to be quite as good.
“I think this is a really good offensive team,” Stotts said. “They shot the ball really well. Chris Paul does a great job of running the offense when he's in the game.
“Devin Booker had another outstanding game. They shot the three rarely well. So, I think they've shown throughout this season that they're a really good offensive team.
“if you look at all their three-point shooters on the team, they space the court really well, they're able to play with a small lineup and with a big lineup. So, you know, we would like to have defended them better, but I also think it's a challenging team to defend.”
This season, there have been a lot of teams that were challenging for the Blazers to defend.
Stotts paints a picture of a Suns team that’s almost impossible to defend – which may be true. But the Trail Blazers must either defend these teams better or play better offense in order to beat the best in the West on a consistent basis.
And that’s what’s going to decide their second-half fate.