2018: Getting swept by the Pelicans in the playoffs
After ending the 2017-18 regular season on a tear to finish with the third seed in the West, the Blazers seemed poised to make noise in the playoffs. But the sixth-seeded New Orleans Pelicans, led by Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, shockingly swept them.
The stunning sweep exposed some flaws with the Blazers, including overreliance on Lillard and McCollum. When the Pelicans successfully blitzed and trapped Lillard and McCollum, Portland’s role players failed to step up and make plays. The Blazers’ need for adjustments from game to game also highlighted shortcomings in Stotts’ strategic flexibility.
If they could get a do-over, the Blazers would make changes to better counter the Pelicans’ aggressive defensive scheme. More screens and cuts to get Lillard and McCollum open off the ball would have helped. Emphasizing more ball and player movement to generate open threes could have kickstarted the offense.
The Blazers also needed more physicality and effort on defense after being bullied by New Orleans on the glass and in transition. A more substantial commitment to defensive rebounding and getting back could have slowed the Pelicans’ domination in the paint.
If afforded a re-do, Portland would shuffle their rotation to give more minutes to players like Zach Collins, Ed Davis and Shabazz Napier, who provided energy.
After such a solid regular season, getting so handily dispatched out of the playoffs by a lower seed was hugely disappointing for Portland. It was an eye-opening series that exposed areas for improvement. If given the chance, the Blazers would prepare better and make earlier adjustments to avoid the ugly sweep.