The Portland Trail Blazers’ longest win streak of the season came to a close on Monday night as they lost to the New Orleans Pelicans by a score of 94-102. Coming into the matchup, Portland had won four straight while New Orleans had lost 14 of its last 15. Horrid three-point shooting and an off night from Damian Lillard opened the doors for the Pelicans to leave the Moda Center victorious.
At 14-17 on the season, the Blazers narrowly remain in the final playoff spot in the West.
Portland ranks sixth in the league in three-point shooting percentage at 36.6%. Tonight, they made 4/29 (13.8%) from beyond the arc, the worst mark of the season. New Orleans, on the other hand, sunk 15/35 three-pointers to garner a 33-point advantage from deep. It’s certainly difficulty to win a game that way.
Outside of CJ McCollum’s two transition triples and Carmelo Anthony’s lone three to end the first quarter, no other Blazers player converted from beyond the arc. Lillard, in an unusual off-night, missed all 10 of his outside attempts.
The poor shooting night can’t be pinned on the offensive system; the Blazers had several quality looks as the Pelicans bombarded the paint with help defenders when Lillard or McCollum drove. Someone might just need to check the hoops for cellophane wrap.
Carmelo Anthony as the lone source of offense
With the three-pointers not falling and a bench unit in constant fluctuation, the Blazers frequently turned to Anthony tonight for an offensive bailout. He hit numerous mid-range jumpers in the dying seconds of the shot clock after Portland’s initial play didn’t run as expected. In the final minutes of the game, the Blazers scrapped any other plays and just hunted switches for Anthony to capitalize on in the post.
While he scored a team-high 23 points on 9/17 shooting, the team can’t rely on him to save the offense. Trading contested, low-percentage mid-range looks with the opponent doesn’t create an advantage anyway you cut it. Through the fourth quarter against a poor Pelicans offense, the Blazers watched the deficit grow as Anthony had to carry the offense.
The other four players should be more active off the ball when Anthony has it in the post. If he has a mismatch, chances are the opponent will have a nearby player watching to see if help is needed. More off-ball movement can exploit the defender’s unawareness and create an open bucket elsewhere on the floor.
Towards the end of the second quarter, Nassir Little defended Brandon Ingram well for nearly an entire possession. With Ingram in the corner and seconds remaining on the shot clock, Little shifted to the left to force Ingram along the baseline and into Whiteside in the paint. However, Whiteside wasn’t on the right side of the rim and Ingram had a clear lane to the hoop for a dunk.
This possession symbolized the Blazers defense tonight, and really for the whole season. There’s little-to-no communication between teammates about switches or helps. On nearly every Pelicans pick and roll, the Blazers player defending the ball handler failed to recover and interrupt the passing lane. Whiteside did his duty of containing the ball handler, but that left the screener open and easy to find right at the rim.
Rebounding issues persist
New Orleans out-rebounded Portland 55-48, including 13 offensive rebounds. Seven of those 13 came in the third quarter when the Pelicans outscored the Blazers by seven points and regained the lead.
The chief reason for the defensive rebounding issue is boxing out. Too often do Blazers players rely on their verticality to secure a rebound. If the ball bounces to a different area than they’re standing — a fairly common occurrence — that paves the way for offensive boards. Portland has a numbers advantage in defensive rebounding scenarios, so putting a body on the lone opponent crashing the offensive glass removes him from the equation and allows for a teammate to collect the loose ball.
The Blazers aren’t a good defensive team. When they do make a stop, conceding second chance points is soul-crushing.
Portland gets three days off to celebrate Christmas and re-evaluate. The team travels to Utah to face the Jazz on Dec. 26 next.