The 2013-2014 season was a breath of fresh air for a franchise that has struggled for success in recent years. When you think about the Portland Trail Blazers’ past, disappoint and bad luck come to mind. The Greg Oden and Brandon Roy story lines: two young players, destined to be stars, derailed by knee injuries. The Jail Blazers years and the multitude of trouble making athletes. The 2000 Western Conference Finals where the Trail Blazers lost in Game 7 against the Lakers after blowing a 15 point lead. Those were some dark times and some still hurt but the future is bright in Portland.
In my opinion, the Trail Blazers were one of the break out teams of the season. No one expected them to finish 26 games over .500 and end up fifth in a strong Western Conference. They ended a 14 year drought of failing to get past the first round of the playoffs, which was capped off in dramatic fashion. The Game 6 buzzer beater against the Rockets will live on in Rip City glory for a long time. Damian Lillard will forever be remembered as the guy who made “the shot”.
Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge represented the Trail Blazers at the All-Star game. The Trail Blazers finished as one of the top five most lethal offenses in the NBA. Portland was the top free throw shooting team in terms of percentage. They were also the number one rebounding team in the league.
So why didn’t they advance past the second round? The answer is simple, they ran into the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs were labeled as “too old” to compete for another NBA title. Looking back, they were been the perfect team to compete for the title. The Trail Blazers season was viewed as a success but here are a few things they can learn from the Spurs that will help them make next season even better:
The Trail Blazers were one of the most potent offenses during the regular season. The Spurs entered the second round match-up with the Trail Blazers after a grueling seven game series with the Mavericks. They were supposed to be tried, old, and slow. It turned out that they were the complete opposite. The Spurs were able to moderate the Trail Blazers’ offense by chasing them off the three-point line and constantly putting pressure on Aldridge. Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw hammered Aldridge in the post and sent him into a shooting slump.
It has been noted that the Trail Blazers defense was sub par during the regular season. The Spurs were able to exploit the weakness of their defense and amplify the Trail Blazers desperate need for a defensive presence. The Trail Blazers finished the season with an adjusted defensive rating of 107.49 which placed them right in the middle of the 30 NBA teams at 15. They weren’t the worst but they were also far from the best. The Trail Blazers need to find players that can contest and rebound like Splitter and Diaw. The current rotation of Robin Lopez, Joel Freeland, and Meyers Leonard is probably not the solution.
Depth was another one of the popular topics all season long. Can the current reserves step up and contribute or will the Trail Blazers need to find help elsewhere? That’s a big question for the team during the offseason. The Spurs have mastered the art of bench production. Marco Belinelli, Diaw (when he doesn’t start), Danny Green, and Patty Mills can all score the ball. All of those players have been dicarded from former teams, but R.C. Buford finds them and Gregg Popovich maximizes their potential. Neil Olshey and Terry Stotts will need to figure out how to do the exact same thing.
There is no doubt that Stotts is an offensive genius. He has the background and make up worthy of a championship coach. He learned from his time with the Mavericks, where he helped orchestrate the offense that lead them to an NBA Championship. Now he will have to learn from his experience coaching against Popovich in the playoffs.
I think this is more geared toward the fan base. The Trail Blazers fans are some of the most passionate and loyal fans in the NBA. They expect results and would like to see improvement now. It’s good to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. The Spurs, as most teams, are a prime example of that.
The Spurs franchise has been around since the 1967-1968 season when they were the Dallas Chaparrals of the ABA. Their first NBA season as the Spurs was in 1973-1974. Up until the Gregg Popovich era (1997-present) the Spurs had only reached the conference finals four times, never advancing to the NBA Finals. During the same time frame, the Trail Blazers also played in four conference finals but advanced to three NBA Finals, winning the title in 1977.
The process of building a championship team is slow and every franchise must experience growing pains. It’s almost unfair to compare the Spurs and the Trail Blazers after Gregg Popovich took over. He is a future Hall of Fame coach that has won five titles in his 17 seasons as head coach. They say patience is a virtue and I hope for the Trail Blazers’ sake that statement is true.