McMillan sees confusion in Blazers' defense

TUALATIN, Ore. — The defeat was a minor setback. And the manner in which the loss occurred was at times troubling. But Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan said the biggest take-home point from his team’s 118-106 drubbing Sunday at the hands of the Denver Nuggets came down to one word: confusion.

McMillan saw confusion in his team’s eyes from the opening tip until the final buzzer. Confusion about when and how to rotate on defense, and confusion regarding how the Blazers were supposed to handle Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony. Melo lit up Portland once again, this time for a game-high 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting, including a number of easy baskets in which Anthony burned a Blazer defense that was either slow to rotate or adjusted too strongly in the attempt to compensate for his uncanny ability to make the net sway from almost anywhere in a half-court set.

McMillan said he let his team know before the game how it was supposed to handle Anthony and the rest of Nugget’s offensive attack. But his point was lost in translation, and he took responsibility for the mixed message.

“When (our) team is not responding like that, then that’s on me,” McMillan said. “I thought last night our double teams were late and soft.”

Portland’s Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge acknowledged the confusion following practice Monday afternoon at the team’s workout facility. Like McMillan, though, they said that viewing game tape and engaging in some old-fashioned conversation should help center a Portland defense that allowed the Nuggets to shoot 58.9 percent (43 of 73) from the floor and 40.9 percent (9 of 22) behind the 3-point line.

“I thought it was good that we sat down and we talked about it,” Roy said. “I think we cleared it up.”

In attempting to hold down Anthony and keep the ball out of his hands, McMillan said the Blazers utilized a variety of defenders and defensive tactics. But even when Anthony was limited to playing off the high block, Denver’s star forward still received a double team. The increased effort hollowed out a Portland defense that ranks fourth out of 30 NBA teams in average points allowed (95.3). And the Nuggets exceeded that total by more than 22 points Sunday, easily taking advantage of a Blazers team playing without injured center Marcus Camby.

“Because we didn’t get there quick enough or soon enough, he was able to turn and fire (from the) weak side,” McMillan said.

But the comfort in which Anthony and his teammates dismantled Portland’s defense provided a lesson. The Blazers have spent the majority of the season playing straight up, old-school defense. When Portland has shifted to a zone, it has often been to compensate for the lack of a presence in the paint. And now that Camby is expected to return for tonight’s game against Sacramento, the Blazers will return to a defense in which each player will be held accountable for their own actions. Help when come when it is needed. But for the most part, a united effort on the defensive end will be derived from individual performances.

“We came up with some things that we normally don’t do,” McMillan said. “And we’ve got to keep it basic. We’ve got to keep it simple. You guard your man.”

Camby ran through the full practice session Monday.
The veteran center is recovering from a left ankle sprain, and his foot was taped and heavily iced after Monday’s workout.
Camby said he expects to play against the Kings, though, and could have taken the court had the Blazers played Monday night.
Camby will re-evalute his ankle after today’s shootaround, and then make a decision about his status.
“If it feels good, I’m ready to get out there and get some minutes,” Camby said.

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Today’s Game
Kings vs. Blazers, 7 p.m. at Rose Garden
TV: CSN (37)
Radio: 95.5 FM
Probable Starters
Blazers (37-28)
Position/player Ht. Pts.
G Andre Miller 6-2 13.6
G Brandon Roy 6-6 21.9
F Nicolas Batum 6-8 9.6
F LaMarcus Aldridge 6-11 17.5
C Marcus Camby 6-11 3.3
Kings (21-42)
G Tyreke Evans 6-6 20.3
G Beno Udrih 6-3 12.2
F Donte Greene 6-11 8.6
F Carl Landry 6-9 17.7
C Spencer Hawes 7-1 10.2

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