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This season, timing is everything

  1. Written by: KevinHudson

    This past weekend marked the first consecutive days off for the Trail Blazers since the last week of December.  
    The month of January included a six-game road trip, four back-to-backs and the first stretch of three games on consecutive nights since 1999.  

    Monday the Trail Blazers take on the Utah Jazz, marking the 18th game of January for Portland, the first full calendar month in this season’s hectic, condensed NBA schedule.  

    So Saturday was a much needed day of rest for the Trail Blazers, coming off an historic 109-71 blowout of the Phoenix Suns, Friday.  

    Sunday, it was back to the practice floor, where coach Nate McMillan said his team had some work to do on timing, execution, and pressure. The team traveled early Sunday and practiced in Utah to help players acclimate to the altitude, according to the coach.  

    “We haven’t had that time to work in practice, so your games almost become practice. You’re kind of limited in what you can have. Mostly everything is a walk-through,” McMillan said. “We’ve walked through a lot of things, teaching through film, but going live is where you work on your timing. You can’t get that when you have so many games.”  

    A better sense of timing – players knowing instinctively when their teammates will be in the proper position within both the set offense and the flow of the game – would undoubtedly cut down on the number of turnovers the Trail Blazers have this season. The team is routinely winning the turnover battle, averaging about 14 turnovers to their opponents 16, but McMillan has said several times he likes to see single-digit turnovers at the bottom of the Portland box score.  

    The last time the team practiced was 11 days ago in Toronto, amid the east-coast leg of their recent road trip. Their next opportunity will likely come Feb. 12-13, their next consecutive off days. That means the team will likely get full, live practices about once every 10-14 days.  

    Understandable when you consider that many of the weeks on this season’s condensed schedule contain four and even five games. In Toronto, the need for rest was equaled by the need for “live” practice, according to the coach.  

    “(It was) what we needed, to get live and go hard and work on timing and work on pressure. Those are the things you try and do,” McMillan said. “In a real practice or a live practice you’re working on timing, you’re working on execution.”  

    And despite the abbreviated training camp and the rare chances for practice over the first quarter of the season, adjustments must be made. Wrinkles must be added and defensive schemes modified per opponent. The Trail Blazers veteran roster has allowed the coach to do so despite new faces in the huddle.  

    “We’re adding. Of course, you can’t add a lot of things but we are slowly adding and trusting,” McMillan said. “You have your walkthroughs and you have your shoot-arounds to do that, so you slowly add to what you need to as far as your team and trying to take advantage of your players…We’re not overloading guys. Trying to create your role or your style of play - that takes time.”      

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