The Man at the Helm
Terry Stotts is hardly a well-known name among casual NBA fans, but he’s done a solid job of getting the Portland Trail Blazers to live up to their potential early in the 2013-14 season.
Through two weeks, Portland is 4-2. Stotts has made a number of good decisions, but as usual, there are things this team can improve upon as it pushes toward a spot in the playoffs.
The Blazers are far from a lock for the postseason, but anytime they go above .500 for the week, they’re in a better spot than the national media puts them in as the year progresses into 2014.
Behind The Scenes
The casual fan doesn’t look at the team behind the scenes, let alone the head coach. They look at what happens during the regular season and the playoffs, and they focus on how the team can get better without looking at the practice environment night in and night out.
Luckily for the casual fan, we’re here for you, and we know exactly what’s going on when you’re buried deep in paperwork while stuck at the office.
This week, Stotts ran a number of drills during practice that won’t get credit anywhere except the water cooler. He tested the team’s heart, endurance and most of all, defense.
As The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman notes, Stotts blew the whistle on random possessions, indicating that the offense just “turned the ball over” and the possession has switched. Portland is middle-of-the-pack at best when it comes to transition defense, and even conditioning could use a spark early in the new year.
This tested the team’s willingness to get back on defense, and quite frankly, it’s a drill that every team should run if it’s serious about becoming a defensive-minded unit.
Points In The Paint
During the 2013 offseason, the Blazers replaced JJ Hickson with Robin Lopez. The big man was supposed to make a difference in defending the paint, but the fact remains that the team is still last in the league when it comes to points allowed in that particular category.
The truth is this: Robin Lopez is a better defender than Hickson. He alters shots on a regular basis, and he blocks shot at a higher rate than his predecessor ever could.
The problem is that Stotts refuses to double team anybody on any night, and as a result, the Blazers are giving up nearly 50 points per game in the painted area.
Oppositely, the Blazers struggle to score down low. We all know that Lopez is far from a go-to option, but LaMarcus Aldridge continues to fade away from the rim.
He’s making a career-best 52 percent from the field, but if the team hopes to compete late in the year, it’ll have to get better down low.
A Look Ahead
Up to this point, every game the Blazers have played has been decided by double digits.
For better or for worse, each game has been decided by 10 points or more, and if the Blazers are going to be a playoff team, they need to learn to play close contests.
Portland has a relatively easy schedule next week, taking on the Detroit Pistons, Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics. It also faces the Toronto Raptors on Sunday, Nov. 17.
Despite a break from contenders, the chances are, there will be at least one game decided by nine points or fewer. The Blazers have a handful of players they can count on in the clutch, and odds are, those guys will be tested when next week is all said and done.