It was only two games out of 82, but the Portland Trail Blazers’ back-to-back wins over the Dallas Mavericks just provided a glimpse into how a successful second half of the 2022-23 season would play out.
But it wasn’t necessarily the wins themselves; it was the way in which Portland earned them.
A turnover-prone Blazers squad didn’t play hot potato with Dallas. A bench unit that ranked 28th in offense managed to cobble together some scoring. In the one game Luka Doncic played, Portland’s defense kept the potential MVP in check.
Fixing their most significant issues – at least for two nights – showed what the Blazers could look like at their best.
The Portland Trail Blazers are beginning to iron out the kinks
Two fundamental problems have been at the root of the Blazers’ two-month-long drought: turnovers and a lack of bench scoring. We’ll call those Issue 1 and Issue 2.
Issue 1: Portland is averaging 15.6 turnovers per game this year. In the first win over Dallas, they only had nine.
The Blazers’ season average in assists is 24.3. In that win, they had 34.
The following night, they had 28 assists versus just seven turnovers.
Issue 2: The Blazers’ second unit was dead last in the NBA in scoring at 23.8 points per contest heading into the first game against the Mavs.
In that win, Gary Payton II (who has been a legitimate difference maker since he returned from injury) and Shaedon Sharpe came off the bench to combine for 22 points alone. In total, that group poured in 30.
The following night it was Nassir Little who played a key reserve role as he scored 10 points in 16 minutes in his first game back from a hip issue. Jabari Walker added seven points and GPII finished with five. Portland’s second unit scored 32 altogether.
The Blazers’ bench had an offensive rating of 50.9 heading into game one of the back-to-back. That ranked 28th in the league. Small sample size alert, but in the two consecutive Dallas wins, that number jumped to 62.5, which would be good for 2nd in the league.
Unsurprisingly, these were Portland’s two highest-scoring games of the season.
But these potential improvements are about to be tested in a serious way – the Blazers’ next game comes in Denver against the Western Conference-leading Nuggets. If they continue to keep the turnovers at a minimum and have guys like Payton, Little, and Sharpe produce off the bench, it might be time to trust that these fixes are real and believe in the real potential of this Portland team.