The Portland Trail Blazers had relatively light schedule of NBA basketball in Week 12, defeating the Charlotte Hornets and losing to the Golden State Warriors. Their 1-1 record for that slate kept them fairly even in the power rankings. What are national media members saying the team needs to do in order to move up? Find out below.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. 15 (previously No. 14)
The Blazers still rank as the league’s most improved defensive team, having allowed 2.3 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season. But they’ve struggled to defend against good teams; they’re 0-4 since Thanksgiving against the other West teams that are currently over .500, despite scoring more efficiently over those four games (115.9 points per 100 possessions) than they have overall. They’ve allowed 122.6 points per 100 possessions over the four losses, with the Warriors’ 118 on 98 possessions on Friday being their second most efficient performance in their 11 games without Stephen Curry.
They were still up eight with less than five minutes left, but the Blazers then scored just two points on their final 13 possessions. They remain tied for the league lead with 13 buckets to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime, but the Blazers have lost their last three games that were within five points in the last five minutes. They’ve scored just 21 points on 31 clutch possessions over those three games, with nine clutch turnovers (three in each game). Damian Lillard just had the ball taken from him by Donte DiVincenzo with the Blazers down two in the final minute on Friday. And then he was really slow to recover back to DiVincenzo on the shot that put the game away.
Lillard is just 11-for-47 (23%) from 3-point range over his last four games, and has now taken at least half of his shots from beyond the arc in each of his last 14. His season-long 3-point rate (58.8%) is the highest of his career by a wide margin, but his free throw rate (38.5 attempts per 100 shots from the field) is also a career-high mark and his overall efficiency remains high. His true shooting percentage of 61.8% is the third highest of his career and ranks 11th among 55 players with a usage rate of 25% or higher.
The Blazers’ defense gets a boost with the expected season debut of Gary Payton II against Detroit on Monday. They’ve spent most of the last three weeks on the road, where they’ve lost four straight (and 10 of their last 14). But they’re home for just a single game before heading back out for a three-game trip.
Zach Harper, The Athletic: No. 15 (previously No. 16)
New Year’s resolution: Get out and run. I think this team is underutilizing its athleticism and younger legs by grinding out games at such a slow pace. Get running and see what Damian Lillard can do with these guys on the move. It might be best for the team, and it’ll be an even more entertaining product on the floor.
Next up: The Trail Blazers take on the league-worst Detroit Pistons, anticipating the debut of defense-minded guard Gary Payton II.