The Trail Blazers were not the best defensive team last season, but Damian Lillard and company have their sights set on improving that side of the ball. It was Lillard who noticed a difference in the team from the very first practice: They helped too much and showed stress about getting stops.
From The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman:
"That let me know that ... we were in our right minds," Lillard said. "We came back really focused and locked in on (defense). Everybody was just on it. And it hasn't stopped."
Many point to the deficiencies of Lillard and backcourt partner CJ McCollum, but the whole team needs to bring a locked in defensive energy. Head coach Terry Stotts knows it’s a team thing:
“We have to be better defensively. That's been our Achilles heel. Two or three years ago, when we were a top 10 defensive team, we were an elite team. So that's still important."
(Notice the emphasis on “we”)
Of course, two or three years ago, the Blazers had players like Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez to set the tone. The defensive mantle has been thrust onto the likes of Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless the past two years—two fringe-starters when they arrived in Rip City—and recently Jusuf Nurkic and Evan Turner.
Injuries have slowed Aminu and Turner down, we haven’t seen an entire season from Nurkic; Harkless can’t be a one-man defense.
But change seems to be on the horizon: Freeman points out the Blazers contested a higher percentage of shots this preseason than last season (75 percent to 70), caused more deflections (20 per game to 16.9) and won more loose balls (6.2 to 2.1).
“I just feel if we lock down on defense, it's going to be a great year for us," Ed Davis said. "It's been great so far. But there's, what, 30 teams in the NBA? Damn near every team is feeling great right now. A couple months from now, that's when you'll really know if it's fool's gold or not.”
With McCollum missing the season opener due to suspension, the Blazers may be lacking on offensive firepower against the Suns. If that’s the case, we’ll get a look at what this defense has, as they aim to stop the likes of Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe.