Blazers’ defensive and offensive woes are connected
TUALATIN, Ore. — Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan said there was a connection.
The Blazers’ recent offensive woes have transferred to the team’s defense. And Portland’s struggling defense is the main reason the Blazers are suffering through a rough three-game losing streak that has McMillan looking for more and his team searching for answers.
To McMillan, the equation is simple. Missed shots on the offensive end of the floor are carrying over and disrupting the team’s defensive mindset. And as a young Portland team attempts to toughen up, every mental lapse is a defensive liability.
“We have guys who feed off putting the ball in the basket. Which most of our guys do. That’s what they do. They’re scorers, they’re shooters,” said McMillan, following a Wednesday morning workout at the team’s practice facility. “And when that ball is not going in the hole or they’re not getting a touch or a look, it can affect you on the defensive end of the floor.”
The Blazers rank third in the NBA in average points allowed (91.3) and opponents’ field-goal percentage (43.8). But the statistics are somewhat misleading. Many of the teams Portland (12-8) faced during the early portion of its schedule are among the worst in the NBA. And the Blazers have allowed 100 or more points in all three of their recent defeats, giving up an average of 107 points during the span.
To remedy what ails, McMillan said the Blazers must “get closer” and increase their defensive intensity. Moreover, Portland has to commit to both ends of the court and sharpen its focus.
“You can almost see some guys — when the shot goes in, they get excited. And defensively, they’re aggressive,” McMillan said. “And if the shot doesn’t go in or if they don’t get a shot, you can see that body language, also.”
But not all of the Blazers’ recent defensive woes rest on the shoulders of the team’s current available players. Portland has been plagued with several key injuries this season.
And McMillan said the Blazers are still dealing with the loss of injured forwards Nicolas Batum and Travis Outlaw, whom he referred to as “sparks.”
Batum was a starter on last season’s team. His range, wingspan and selflessness on the defensive end were major keys for a Portland squad that finished fourth in the league in points allowed (94.1) in 2008-09.
Outlaw was a reserve. But his raw athleticism and inner drive provided the Blazers with a capable defender who could at times be used as a lock-down force.
“Nic really set the tone for, defensively, how we played,” McMillan said. “Now, we have guys who are working at that. They’re not as good, but they’re working at it.”
McMillan stated that the only way Portland can improve its defense with its current roster is by watching film, addressing problems and continuing to sharpen and refine.
“Can that be fixed with the guys we have? We don’t know,” McMillan said. “But we’ve got to try to make that work. You just don’t all of a sudden become something that you weren’t.”
Meanwhile, Blazers center Joel Przybilla said the franchise has made too much progress in recent years to let injuries and momentary frustration derail high hopes and higher expectations. The veteran big man said a positive outlook and hard work were the keys to Portland working its way out of a three-game hole.
“People are talking about right now, we’re in this little slump right now. But all it takes is one game to get out of this funk we have right now,” Przybilla said. “And as soon as we get that, the sky’s the limit with this team. We’ve just got to stick together and keep on working. … We’re going to figure it (out), man. It’s just going to take a lot of work, and that’s what we’ve got to realize.”
Outlaw made his first Blazers-related appearance since undergoing foot surgery Nov. 18. He walked with a pair of crutches and wore a cast on his left foot. Outlaw stated that the cast should be removed in two weeks, and he will then begin wearing a boot. He estimated that he should be able to return to action in March, and added that it has been hard to watch his team during its three-game losing streak. “I know we’re better than that,” he said. However, Outlaw was not without his normal sense of humor. Asked how he had occupied his time during his rehabilitation, Outlaw said, “I done got really good at Madden. … I’m definitely a (Minnesota) Vikings fan.” … Portland rookie guard Patty Mills attended practice and ran drills. Mills, who is recovering from a fractured right foot, has been out since July 9. … Blazers center Greg Oden sat out Wednesday’s practice due to an ankle sprain. … Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge did not practice. His right knee bone contusion will be re-evalauted before the Blazers’ 7 p.m. contest Saturday against the Houston Rockets at the Rose Garden. He will likely be a game-time decision.