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The Ringer: Blazers’ Improved Defense Mostly a Mirage

The Ringer’s early season awards praises Portland...until it doesn’t.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA season is still in its early stages, but fans and media alike can’t help but overreact to the action.

Sitting at 4-3, the Trail Blazers have shown their desire to be more focused and measured on defense. Anchored by the still-ripe center Jusuf Nurkic, Portland is seventh in defensive efficiency (98.7). This puts them right behind the likes of the Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies.

But according to “The Ringer’s” Paolo Uggetti, there is cause to pump the breaks on the transformation from last season:

What sparked such a turnaround? So far, it looks like a lot of noise. The Blazers beat the dysfunctional Suns by 48 in their season opener. They played the Suns again Saturday and allowed 107 points.

There is no doubt that the bruise Portland put on Phoenix opening night aids their defensive numbers. Still, seven games into last season, the Trail Blazers had held just two opponents under 100 points. Those teams also happened to be the worst offensive squads in the league last year: The Grizzlies and Mavericks. Seven games into this season, however, that number has already doubled to four teams.

Uggetti doesn’t totally dismiss the eye-raising stats, suggesting that there has been considerable improvement:

“A healthy and slimmed-down Jusuf Nurkic, plus a more determined Damian Lillard, may be all they need to be at least average defensively. Are they a top-10 defense? Probably not. But they might not be a bottom-10 team either, and that’s important progress for a team that, despite Monday’s six-point second quarter, has slipped no lower than 11th in offense the past five seasons (including this one).”

Has Portland’s defense turned a corner, or will recent history eventually catch up with them? Let us know in the comments.