The volume must have been low following the All-Star break because the Portland Trail Blazers have dialed it up several notches.
"Dialed it up" may be an understatement. The Trail Blazers have cranked the wheel and have blown out several speakers.
Just after the mini-vacation, Portland found themselves in a bit of a funk, dropping three of four games, including two routs at the Rose Garden. Call that the "transition period" as Gerald Wallace adjusted to the Trail Blazer way, while Brandon Roy and Marcus Camby settled back into the rotation.
Now, each has found his place, resting comfortably within Coach Nate McMillan's system that emphasizes a defense-first mindset.
Since the 103-87 romping by the Houston Rockets to open March, the Trail Blazers have strung together four straight victories - most notably the last two against the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat.
The offensive numbers are as breathtaking as they were during the six-game run to end the first half of the season. In fact, they're somewhat average. It's the defensive side of the ball that turns heads.
Portland has bought into the defensive game. Sure, teams still shoot high percentages, but they don't come easy. To get a shot off, offenses need to escape the hounding pressure the Trail Blazers enforce then hustle back on defense to stop Portland's transition.
Starting in Sacramento on March 2 and spanning through the Miami Heat game last night, the Trail Blazers have forced a combined 69 turnovers that have resulted in 92 points. We're talking an average of 17.25 turnovers that result in 23 points per game.
Another advantage: Portland takes care of the ball, giving the rock up an average 8.75 times per game and holding opponents to 8.5 points off those turnovers. Right there, the Trail Blazers have a 14.25-point leg up on the opposition.
Mix that with the lineup that has closed the last few games and Portland becomes a wall. Last night, during his 31-point outburst, LeBron James had the unfortunate pleasure of being defended by Wallace in the fourth quarter. Crash, in turn, held James to just four points.
The defense has been more strategic and cautious more than anything else. Opponents have rarely
found themselves at the free throw line the last four contest, averaging just 14.25 trips to the line.
The Trail Blazers, on the other hand, have taken the aggresive route on offense. During its four-game stretch, Portland has earned its way to the charity stripe nearly 22 times per night, sinking more than 17. Including the points off turnovers, the Trail Blazers now own a 20.75-point advantage.
Factor in the bench production, which, aside from the Kings' matchup, the Trail Blazers have held the upper hand in, and Portland continues to run away. With a three-point edge in that department each contest, the Trail Blazers have outscored opponents 23.25 points per game.
At this point, it doesn't matter if a team puts up a 60-plus shooting percentage, Portland, according to the numbers, should still wind up victorious.
Two games remain on the Trail Blazers' final Eastern Conference road trip - both winnable, especially after sweeping Florida and with McMillan's two-year extension as a motivator. If strategy remains the same, defense above all else, then Portland should return 12 games above .500 and sitting in the fifth spot of the Western Conference.