In all but one of Portland’s losses this year, an opposing player has scored 30 or more points. The players to do so are: Dirk Nowitzki, Nikola Pekovic, Chris Bosh, Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young, DeMarcus Cousins/Rudy Gay, James Harden, and Goran Dragic. Five big men, three slashing guards, and a wing. (The leading scorer in the other loss was also Dragic.)
The Trail Blazers have a lot of problems preventing big games. A few weeks ago, Ed Kupfer tweeted a plot of the teams who have allowed the most season-high scoring games this season. Portland was the worst (Kupfer’s whole feed is really fascinating, and shoutout to Brandon Goldner for pointing it out to me). It seems like once a player gets rolling, Portland has trouble stopping him.
This probably has something to do with Terry Stotts’ defensive philosophy. The Trail Blazers rarely double team anyone. This is especially true in the post. We’ve seen the Trail Blazers mercilessly capitalize on the doubles that LaMarcus Aldridge draws, and Stotts is clearly determined to avoid the same on the other end. This leaves the team open to attack from dominant big men, especially centers too quick and agile for Robin Lopez to contain, like DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard (not on the list, but he scored 29 in the fourth game of the season, barely missing my arbitrary cutoff). Huge strong guys like Pekovic have given the team trouble for years, and the transition from JJ Hickson to Robin Lopez hasn’t improved matters enormously in this particular area.
This doesn’t explain the slashing guards going nuts against us; that, I’m afraid, is probably the result of poor perimeter defense and rim protection, not the kind of thing that can be easily fixed with a strategic shift. It also makes some sense of a strange trend. The Blazers, despite a pretty terrible defense, are second best in the league in assists allowed per hundred possessions. The graph, for the mathematically inclined:
That’s Portland circled in red. They, unlike most poor defensive teams, don’t allow many assists. It seems isolations and post-ups, typically inefficient shots, work against the Trail Blazers due to their hesitancy to double. (Side note: Open Office Calc is really hard to use.)
It might not be a huge problem that the Blazers tend to allow big games. If minor players don’t score when a star goes off, it comes out about the same. But Portland’s defense is bad. While this is by no means the Trail Blazers’ only defensive issue, applying doubles more liberally might be a way to prevent some of these career nights and ultimately improve the team’s defensive efficiency. Maybe it would also tend to force more turnovers, which is Portland’s true Achilles heel. I doubt any of the Trail Blazers are likely to spontaneously improve their individual defense, so I hope Terry Stotts is willing to experiment now, during the low-stakes regular season. The conservative schemes Stotts like to run might yet work, but they also might not, and now is the time to find out.