It is readily apparent that the Portland Trail Blazers are faltering during their current four game slide, but rather than just acknowledge that it’s happening, it’s always worth digging into the ‘why’ of these things. After the Spurs game, I saw a national analyst say something to the effect that the Blazers’ defense (or lack thereof) was to blame for this recent slide.
Being skeptical of anything I hear from national media, and because to my eye the Blazers’ offense has looked to be more to blame, that’s where I started. Lo and behold, to an extent, the analyst was right. During this four game slide, the Blazers’ defensive rating (approximately the number of points allowed per 100 possessions) has been an abysmal 111.4. For an entire season, this would be by far the worst in the league – well worse than the last place Utah Jazz (108).
Of more concern is how it compares to the team’s rate for the whole season, which sits at a manageable 104.8. That means the Blazers have dipped nearly seven full points on the defensive end, which is a huge part of why they are in this losing stretch. So yes, it’s fair to say that the Blazers’ recent woes are partially due to defense.
But, on the other side of the ball, the team’s offense has been stumbling pretty heavily as well. On the season, the Blazers’ offensive rating (approximate points scored per 100 possessions) has been 108.3, good for fourth best in the league. As you may have guessed, however, this production has also fallen off a cliff, and has been 102.1 during the past four games (which would be tenth worst in the league on the season).
There are a couple of major takeaways here. Probably the most important is the sheer swing in differential. On the season, the difference between the Blazers’ offensive and defensive ratings is a positive 3.5, which clocks in at a respectable eighth best in the league. During these last four games, this difference has been completely reversed, and is at a negative 9.3, which would come in at second worst in the league (just better than the Bucks).
Enough with the numbers – the point is that as of late the Blazers have been playing at a level roughly equivalent to the lowly Milwaukee Bucks. This is not a recipe for success, and not something you want to be seeing right as a team is gearing up for a playoff push.
As for the aforementioned deeper ‘why,’ I wish there were easy answers. To start with, all four losses have come on the road, which is certainly something to note. I don’t care who you are playing – walking into an enemy arena and emerging with a victory is never an easy task in the NBA.
Additionally, all four teams are Western Conference teams headed to the playoffs with everything left to play for. There were no teams ready to roll over and let the season end – the Mavericks, Rockets, Grizzlies, and Spurs are all very much alive and jockeying for positioning in the historically strong Western Conference.
In a macrocosm, losing four games on the road to other playoff-bound teams isn’t the end of the world, but at the same time, for a being a playoff-bound team themselves, these are all games the Trail Blazers need to be winning. Especially with the playoffs looming, it will only get harder from here on out.
Injuries (whether they actually keep a player out of the game or not) are also mounting up at this point. I am rather sure that as of now, no player is truly “healthy” this far into the season. But, every team has to deal with such obstacles, so there are no excuses.
It’s crunch time now, and the Trail Blazers need to start upping their game. This won’t get any easier with the recent injuries to LaMarcus Aldridge and Mo Williams, but again, it’s something the team has to accept, deal with, and move on.