The Portland Trail Blazers went .500 last week, blowing out the lowly New York Knicks 115-87 last Tuesday before falling to the Denver Nuggets on Thursday 114-99. But they’ve lost three of their last four, with most outlets putting the Blazers in the bottom third of the league hierarchy.
ESPN’s Royce Young has them ranked 20th, five spots down from last week. He cites several issues with Portland, including porous defense and the merely temporary solution of Carmelo Anthony not being viable:
It’s one step forward and two steps back for Portland. And the one step forward was more like a shuffle of the feet. The Blazers have lost three of four, with the one win being over the Knicks. The three losses have come by an average of 16.6 points, preventing any opportunity for Damian Lillard to do his big-shot thing. Carmelo Anthony was a Band-Aid, but a likely temporary one. The offense is a little better since adding him (up 3.2 points per 100), but the defense isn’t (down 2.0), as the Blazers rank 21st in defensive rating.
Sports Illustrated’s Michael Shapiro ranked them 20th and also shared some concerns about the defense, noting that this is not the position the Blazers envisioned themselves in before the season.
Portland’s defense is one of the West’s shakier units, and a pair of defensive metrics are particularly jarring. No team allows more free throws per game, and only two teams force fewer turnovers. There isn’t a standout defender on the roster. The Blazers are small on the perimeter and undisciplined down low. This is far from the personnel and performance Terry Stots envisioned through 26 games.
Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes put Portland 19th. He pointed out that Hassan Whiteside has performed well, with his double-double streak reaching six games, but that it hasn’t translated actually to solid team defense.
Hassan Whiteside’s double-double streak reached six games when he posted 33 points and 11 boards in Thursday’s loss to the Nuggets, but the Blazers went just 2-4 in that stretch. All four of those losses came by at least a dozen points, and Portland is now 1-10 against opponents with records above .500.
In the West, only the Warriors have been worse against winning teams.
Portland ranks among the bottom five in three key defensive categories: opponent turnover percentage, opponent offensive rebound rate and opponent free-throw rate. You’d think the presence of Whiteside in the lane would at least address the last two categories, but it’s clear the Blazers simply aren’t making teams work for their points around the bucket.
Colin Ward-Henniger of CBS Sports kept the Blazers at 20th, writing that the disappointing record makes them that much more interesting during trade season.
The Blazers blew out the Knicks at home, then got blown out by the Nuggets on the road. It will be interesting to see if Portland considers itself close enough to contention to be buyers between now and the trade deadline. The bottom of the West has been so bad that it might make sense -- the Blazers are only 1.5 games out of the eight seed despite their disappointing record.