Trail Blazers

Trail Blazers run into defensive trouble their 'hope-they-miss' defense can't stop

Trail Blazers

Ever wonder what would happen if the NBA’s best offensive team played against one of the very worst defensive teams?

Then you must not have watched Monday night’s debacle in Milwaukee, where the Bucks pounded the Trail Blazers 134-106. And by now I should not have to identify which team is one of the worst defensive units.

The game was over by the end of the third quarter, when the home team had a 113-77 lead and was shooting 62.1 percent from three-point range and 61.1 percent overall.

At that point, the deep reserves took over the game and Portland’s youngsters won the final quarter. But the damage was done by then.

The Trail Blazers had all sorts of problems with the Bucks’ penetration. That's toxic when a team has no rim protector. And when Milwaukee got into the lane, Portland tried to help from the corners, which led to opening up the most potent shot in basketball, the corner three.

That left Portland relying on the same defensive gambit it has leaned on since last season -- the "hope-they-miss" defense.

The Bucks didn't miss much.

 

“Well, individually, we have to be better on the ball, and take away angles to the basket,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “They really didn't hurt us with pick and rolls. You're right, there was penetration, whether it's in transition or in the half court.

“They did a good job of finding the weakside shooters. I don't want to discourage helping, but if we do help from the bottom guy, then we’ve got to rotate to the corner, and we’ve got to be better at that.”

Due to injuries, the Trail Blazers started Nassir Little at forward and he was terrific. A second-year player who hasn’t had many regular rotation minutes, was starting for the second straight game and scored a career-high 30 points on 11-18 from the floor, including 5-7 from long range.

Little came to Portland last season as a first-round draft choice, a year after being one of the top high school players in the country. But like so many young players here, he was buried on the bench and seldom played meaningful minutes this season or last.

But he looked like buried treasure against the Bucks… a confident, very athletic player who can help at both ends of the floor, when -- off how few minutes he has played -- not much was expected. And face it, without the injuries, we would not have seen any sign of him on the court.

The obvious question moving forward will be how much playing time will Little get in the future? I'm not saying he's a star in the making or even a brief answer -- but I'm saying it would make more sense to use him than veterans with no future.

Carmelo Anthony is in the midst of a shooting slump the likes of which he has probably never faced in his career.

Over his last five games, he has made only 18 of his 65 shots and just 3 of his 24 three-point field goals. For the season, he is shooting just 36.1 percent overall and averaging 11.6 points per game.

“I wouldn't call it a massive shooting slump,” Stotts said. “He's had a couple of poor shooting games. I don't know what you'd call a massive shooting slump, but Melo has earned the right to play through a shooting slump.”

 

Thing is, with CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins and (for the last two games) Derrick Jones, injured and unable to play, the team’s margin for error against good teams is very thin.

And even then, wins against any teams are going to be hard to manufacture. It would seem an ideal time to get Little, Gary Trent and Anfernee Simons as many minutes as they can handle, for several good reasons:

  • Find out if they can play and if so, how well.
  • Get them ready for serious rotation time later in the season when those starters return.
  • If for nothing else, to raise their trade value if they play well.

There is no rest after this game, either. The Washington Wizards are next up, Tuesday night. Defense will be needed.