Trip Rolls On in D.C.
Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts told me on Tuesday night that it had been a "productive day" in Washington D.C., and that the team spent most of its practice session watching video of the last two games. He then added what I already knew- they weren't spending time watching the offense, but the defense.
On Monday night in Detroit, the Pistons shot 53 percent and beat the Blazers 108-101. The Pistons came into that game averaging just 93 points per game. It's been a familiar problem for Portland, and one that they're very aware of, and are trying to fix.
What's interesting is that we have usually only been spending a lot of time focusing on the defense when the offense happens to fail this team, like it did in Detroit. In other words, a good shooting night by the starters acts as a pretty good band-aid for the defense. It's not that everyone hasn't been pointing out the high shooting percentage the Blazers have been giving up, but winning, no matter how you win, is a pretty good cure all.
But, the problem persists.
Quite obviously, what the defensive problems do is put way too much pressure on the offense. As we mentioned on the TV broadcast, right after the game Monday night, when the Blazers don't shoot well right now, they're not going to win. Detroit isn't one of the elite defensive teams in the league, and that's what made Monday's loss disappointing.
After the game it was very easy to take a quick look at the offensive numbers for Portland and see the reasons for their 42 percent shooting. Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews, who have been so good lately, really struggled from the field. They combined to shoot 6 for 27. When those two guys have off nights, in the same game, it's going to be tough to overcome. That's just the reality right now.
Matthews has been struggling with a sore elbow on his shooting arm. It hasn't been talked about much, but I talked with him about it again before the game against the Pistons. After watching him continuously flex the elbow after every shot in the pre-game warmup period, I asked him if it's still giving him problems. He simply said, "I just can't get it loose."
To add to that, Matthews jammed his right thumb at some point during the game, and he spent Tuesday getting treatment on it. It was very swollen following the loss. I'm not sure of his status for Wednesday's game, but Wesley is not one to miss games, for any reason. He hasn't missed a game in his NBA career. He's as tough as they come, and you usually can't even get him to talk about things like this. He keeps his nagging injuries to himself. Always has.
We did see some positives during the loss in Detroit. LaMarcus Aldridge had 32 points and 10 rebounds, showing that his back problem wasn't a problem, at least in that game. And, Will Barton provided a much-needed boost for the bench unit. Barton had 12 points, and that helped the bench combine to score 22 points. Ironic that when the bench provides some good production, a couple of starters struggle, and that total by the second unit gets lost in the shuffle.
Nothing on the road is easy in the NBA, but the loss in Detroit was particularly painful. Not only was that a game Portland expected to win, but it set up a very scary situation that'll come their way on Wednesday night. The Washington Wizards still haven't won a game this season, and you better believe they've got this one pegged as their get-out-of-jail game. The only thing more painful than starting a trip 0-3, will be if that third loss ends up being the first win for Washington.
That's plenty of extra motivation, for both sides.