McMillan wants Blazers to be more aggressive defending pick-and-roll

TUALATIN, Ore. — Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan said it is one of the oldest, most-trusted plays in the book of basketball.

And executed to perfection on the NBA level, the pick-and-roll can be nearly impossible to defend.

The Washington Wizards did not perfect the pick-and-roll while nearly upsetting the Blazers at the Rose Garden on Friday night. But Washington did burn the Blazers multiple times with the play, particularly during a late-game run in which Wizards guard Randy Foye found open space near the top of the key and made Portland pay. Foye poured in seven points in 1 minute, 20 seconds. And he would have been hard pressed to find better, more open looks at the basket.

McMillan said a lack of communication and ball pressure plagued the Blazers’ pick-and-roll defense against Washington. And with Western Conference playoff-bound teams such as Phoenix, Dallas, Oklahoma City and Denver — all of whom rely on the pick-and-roll to set up their offense — on the horizon, there was a push during Saturday’s practice at the team’s workout facility to tighten up one of Portland’s biggest weaknesses.

“Control” was a word McMillan emphasized over and over. While attacking an opponent’s ballhandler is key, McMillan said, so is developing a more aggressive mentality in which the Blazers value their effort on the defensive end as much as their ability to sink shots on offense.

“You’ve got to get into the ball; you’ve got to get up on the ball,” McMillan said. “And some of our guys at times are having trouble getting up on the ball.”

The speed of opposing guards is troubling the Blazers. But so is simple execution.

Normally, Portland will “show” when defending the pick and roll, and not go with the switch. But as teams throughout the league capitalize on the evolution of athletic talent and size, bending the traditional rules of the play, the Blazers must prepare to guard against situations in which power and small forwards run the set, not just centers and point guards.

Portland guard Brandon Roy acknowledged that Portland is still struggling to defend the pick-and-roll. And he said the fact that some of the premier point guards in the game, such as Phoenix’s Steve Nash and Utah’s Deron Williams, loom on the schedule makes it all the more important that the Blazers quickly tie up their loose ends.

“We’ve got to do a good job of keeping those guys out of the paint,” Roy said.

Blazers guard Rudy Fernandez will neither play in nor travel with the team for tonight’s road game against the Suns, McMillan said.

Fernandez strained his left quadriceps during Friday’s victory over Washington. He was held scoreless in 14 minutes of action, and did not play in the fourth quarter.

“He’s still sore,” McMillan said.

As a result, Fernandez will remain in Portland to receive medical treatment.

The second-year guard from Spain is averaging 8.8 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists this season.

He had scored at least 10 points in five of Portland’s last six games prior to Friday’s contest against the Wizards, and had knocked down 60.6 percent (20 of 33) of his 3-point attempts during the stretch.

Fernandez has missed 19 games due to injury this season, dealing with back and leg issues.

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