Practice Report, Nov. 7: What bench problems?

TUALATIN – With visions of Chris Paul running the break and alley oops abounding on the Rose Garden court tomorrow, the Trail Blazers returned to the practice facility with a focus on defense. After a day off, you can tell the 24 fastbreak points from Monday’s loss in Dallas remained first and foremost on the mind of coach Terry Stotts.

“Transition defense has been bad and it hasn’t gotten any better,” Stotts said. “The second half against Houston in overtime, we really limited their opportunities and that was the difference in the game… (But) against Oklahoma City and Dallas, there were a lot of parts of our transition defense that needs to improve.”

This is what Stotts led with in his comments after practice. Defense. And here I was thinking the league-worst 12.8 points he’s getting from his bench was a problem. Boy, was I wrong!

“No,” is how Stotts began his answer when I asked if the bench was a concern.

Just a scan of the statistics this season shows that the Blazers are not only worst in scoring, but also rank last in field goals attempted and made (4.8/13.0). But, it’s not like they’re given plenty of time as a whole. The second unit only averages 13.5 minutes per game, while four Blazer starters rank in the top 12 in total minutes played.

So chew on this for a spell: Is the bench not scoring because the starting five plays so many minutes or are the starters always on the floor because the bench can’t score?

“I could take one of my starters and put him off the bench, that would help my bench scoring but I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. As long as we have a rotation where a couple scorers are on the court with our bench players, it’s worked well. We’ve been competitive for four games and I think too much has been made of our bench scoring. We have scored, regardless of how the bench has scored.”

There are reasons to back up Stotts and him not sweating the bench scoring. Last season, the Miami Heat won the NBA championship in spite of having the third-worst bench in the league. And Minnesota, with its reserves scoring 34.7 ppg for sixth overall, didn’t even sniff the playoffs. So there’s not much to prove that bench scoring = wins. And so far, the Blazers are 2-2 without their bench lighting it up.

So, if they’re not scoring, what’s the strength of this second unit? Stotts says it’s their experience. But later, Wesley Matthews described the bench as “inexperienced.” And when the same question about collective strength of the bench was posed to reserve point guard Ronnie Price he initially shrugged and responded: “I don’t know.”

Although the core is set with four guys, it seems the bench is still a work in progress.

“I think we need to be more of an energetic group than the first group,” Price said. “I think guys that come in for short spurts of playing time need to provide energy. If you’re only going to be in there for a few minutes, here or there, I think there shouldn’t be any excuse why we shouldn’t play hard. I think we need to be more of a defensive unit and more of an energy unit.”

Go ahead, double team Lillard

Not only was Stotts OK with Lillard’s shot selection during his 2-for-13 night on Monday, but he welcomes more teams flashing the kind of double teams his rookie faced in Dallas.

“I hope they do because I thought Damian handled it well and it leads to 4 on 3,” Stotts said. “It’s just like when teams double teamed LaMarcus. We win a game down in Houston because (when) they sucked down on LaMarcus and we hit an open 3. So if we can get a team to commit two players to the ball that gives us more opportunities.”

Election Night in Barton’s house

Four years ago, rookie Will Barton was just 17 years old. Too young to buy lottery tickets, get a tattoo or vote. But on Tuesday night, Barton acted like a regular Wolf Blitzer during his first presidential election as a legal voter.

“I watched the whole election until it was over,” Barton said. “I didn’t leave the TV.”

You only had to follow Barton’s Twitter stream to see how much he enjoyed the process. Watching CNN coverage with his mother, Barton broadcast his feelings to his nearly 12,000 followers. Barton showed the zeal of someone watching a spectator sport and with tweets like this one, it was easy to guess who he was pulling for.

“It was fun,” Barton said. “We were rooting for Obama. Sometimes it was going up and down and sometimes they were saying Romney’s going to win, so we’d get mad. Then they’d say Obama was going to win. So we were just waiting it out.

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