The Portland Trail Blazers have been the surprise of the 2013-14 NBA season, and while it’s nice to have that title, this team won’t be satisfied if it fades into the distance and is forgotten by the end of the year.
Head Coach Terry Stotts has done a brilliant job of getting his team to play up to its competition. It has taken down eight of the top nine teams in the league, and the only team it couldn’t defeat was the back-to-back champion Miami Heat.
But while this team has an impressive resume at this juncture, it’s what’s ahead that Stotts and his crew has to be worried about.
It’s a shame that we haven’t done it more this season, but we need to give Stotts credit for his ability to call the right plays.
Despite the Blazers playing a lackluster fourth quarter against the Miami Heat, the team almost walked away with a win because of a perfect play call as time expired. We saw a similar play drawn up against the New Orleans Hornets the next game, but once again, Portland just couldn’t make up the difference after falling behind.
Time and time again, we’ve seen the Blazers make plays above the rim in out-of-bounds sets, and time and time again, they’ve been successful. Unfortunately, opponents are catching on to Stotts’ schemes, which is why it’s time for him to adjust.
Luckily for Rip City, faith should not be lost. Stotts has been making adjustments all season; we just haven’t noticed it because of the consistently brilliant shooting from three-point line.
Although it’s been discussed, Stotts again deserves more credit for his halftime adjustments. Third quarters have been “go time” for the Blazers this season, and it’s Stotts’ ability to point out changes in the locker room that has sparked such surges.
Sotts now needs to take that mentality and shift it to his out-of-bounds plays. He’s been brilliant thus far; he just needs to show he hasn’t capped out.
Closing Out Games
For the first time this season, the Blazers have lost consecutive games. We’re far from panic mode at this point in the year, but the losses do bring up a good point, that this team might not be able to sustain its crunch-time success for 82 games.
So far on the year, the Blazers have the highest winning percentage in crunch-time situations (five minutes or less when the score is within five points). Damian Lillard has the most clutch points in the NBA behind Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul, and LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews have also shown the ability to step up late.
Now that the Blazers have experienced the bitter taste of defeat in consecutive close games, it’s time for Stotts to rally the troops. We’ve heard Wesley Matthews talk about being “pissed off,” and that’s the kind of attitude fans love to hear when expectations are so high.
Now it’s Stotts’ turn to make sure he makes the right adjustments to get the team back to its winning ways.
A Look Ahead
The 2014 schedule isn’t going to be nearly as friendly as it was in 2013.
Portland faced tough opponents night in and night out during the first quarter of the year, but as we’ve already hit on, most of those games were at home.
Now it’s time to sustain success, and the No. 1 way to make that happen is beating top-tier opponents on the road.
Portland has the ability to shoot teams out of the gym, but when adversity strikes, Stotts needs to make sure he has a contingency plan. This team is for real, but unless it can prove it in the New Year, Rip City will be looked at as a fluke in the eyes of the national media.