If the Portland Trail Blazers were hoping to exit the 2020 pre-season schedule favorably against the Denver Nuggets on Friday night, they didn’t get their wish. The game was less perfect in orchestrating than the sad trombone symphony. Damian Lillard sat out of the game, knocking out one of Portland’s leading goalscorers. But the lack of defense – not the offense – was the devastating downfall. The Blazers descended early, dug the hole deeper, then slipped their way to the end of a frustrating 129-96 loss.
If the Blazers were on the way to improving their defense this year, they almost certainly didn’t show it in pre-season play. A bad defense against Denver on Tuesday evening turned into a frankly impotent defense tonight.
Portland has had a bad lockdown at the three-point arc since the start. They collapsed into the driveway, but shooters never recovered at any point or angle. Denver shot 41% of the distance tonight. Most of their mistakes were easy.
Just when you were hoping for things to get better, it got worse. The second unit couldn’t close the inside either. When Denver began scoring in the Cup in addition to the arc, the decent lead swelled to become indomitable.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse again did it happen. Portland’s defensive recoil went into the pot. As Denver started getting multiple attempts after mistakes, the margin turned from invincible to funny.
At that point, the look in the eyes of the Blazers told the story more clearly than Triple H when John Cena appeared in the Royal Rumble. It was a mixture of “what the hell is that?” And, “It’s just pre-season.” The problem was, the clock was read at the start of the second quarter at that point, which was way too early for any game to be discarded, even if it was a show.
At no point did the Nuggets appear to be upset about anything the Blazers had done in defense. When a single player takes a good position (rarely), they simply pass it on to wherever the defense wasn’t. This is the most disturbing thing of all of this. Between pre-season drive and a lack of experience together, the Blazers can be relieved of their lack of defensive cohesion, and thus efficiency. The Nuggets acted like Portland’s defense didn’t exist. The Blazers have done nothing about it. This is not good. Better if your Portland gut time is in the locker room and on that plane.
I hesitate to blame any player for the performance. It’s pre-season and the malaise was at the team level. However, we can’t ignore how bad Yusuf Norkitch is doing tonight, and by so much of the show schedule. A couple of weeks ago on the Dave and Dia podcast, we identified Nurkic as a key advocacy hookup. So far it was anything but. Despite returning from an injury during this summer’s Orlando Bubble reboot, Light has spent most of the past two years off the shelf. It may be a show. It looks slow, heavy, almost listless. He jogs on the ground and is walking between defensive possessions. He not only misses courses, he totally fails to do them. Its peripheral coverage, closed or on screens, is Whiteside-esque.
Portland still has problems with opposing dodgers to overrun guards. If the medium is not safe, then disaster will happen. Enes Kanter doesn’t help much with this department. Harry Giles isn’t ready to take on that kind of responsibility. If Nurkic doesn’t work, the Blazers are in trouble.
Norkitch also suffered the indignity tonight. The screens between him and the guards were poorly executed. The holdings with your high light, the start of the plays, ended with metamorphoses.
CJ McCollum tried to fill the gap and lift the team in Lillard’s absence. He did several good solo plays but a few sparked the team. His isolated moves were equivalent to paddling a dog in an ocean storm. There was no way to get to Earth under these circumstances.
The good news: Portland has provided evidence of offensive threats in every situation, when it upsets them to use them. Robert Covington hit a hat-trick and Derek Jones Jr. attacked the ledge with power before leaving the game after a disgusting fall for the third. Kanter didn’t help much away from offensive recoil, but he did at least.
Carmelo Anthony had a frustrating night, rarely looking clean, and was fired for arguing calls in the third term. If it was less of a protest than leaving the ship at that point, that would be appropriate. Milo paid 0-7 for 3 points this evening.
McCollum scored 26 points and Gary Trent Jr.ed 18 to lead the Blazers. Canter had 10, indicating only the three Blazers with double numbers.
In most circumstances, a plus-minus is a neglected statistic for a solo outing. This game provides the exception. Eight of the 11 Portland players who scored on Earth came out with negative two-digit numbers in a plus-minus sign. Across the bench, only Keljin Blevins, who played 12 minutes, finished better than -15. This is not good.
The Blazers will return home to regroup before the start of the regular season next Wednesday against Utah Jazz. Scoring 1-3 before the season counts for nothing. Lack of vital signs may result last week. Coach Terry Stots and Damien Lillard will need to grease some oars, and yell, “Clear!” And the rhythm of this team in a rhythm from time to time, otherwise the start of the regular season 2020-21 will be painful.
Stay with Blazer’s Edge over the weekend and early next week as we preview the season and get you ready for the important games!
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The Blazers will be hosting jazz this Wednesday 23 December at the Moda Center at 7:00 pm, Pacific.
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