The Portland Trail Blazers are walking a fine line this season and if they are not careful they could find themselves out of playoff content and become the laughing-stock of the NBA. The talent is there and it better be due to the insane amount of money they spent this offseason. Players like Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless, and Allen Crabbe were given money that has yet to pay off for the team.
The Blazers were the darlings of the NBA after the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge. They rode the penetrating skills of Damian Lillard and the perimeter play of C.J. McCollum to the second round and were ready to go further this year but it happened. The IT being, they were figured out.
Teams figured how to play the Blazers and it was rather simple. Let Lillard and McCollum do whatever they wanted, and if they happened to enter the paint, knock them on their tails. The frontcourt is not big or defensive so, there is no need to waste fouls or energy guarding them. However, what the Blazers haven’t figured out is how to counter teams tactics toward them.
It’s simple. They must become the team that fans and the NBA hated in the late 1980’s. The Bad Boys of the Detroit Pistons.
The Bad boys had one goal. To protect their backcourt of Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. The two players were small. Thomas listed as 6-1 and Dumars as 6-3 much like Lillard and McCollum. But, they had help from their teammates. While Thomas and Dumars did the heavy lifting, the frontcourt of Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, and Rick Mahorn patrolled the paint with force. Neither player was menacing looking or full of muscles like Ben Wallace but they played tough.
This is where the Blazers low post players have failed.
Today’s players are more concerned about their perimeter game than the defensive end. But when Lillard and McCollum must use top energy on both ends which drains them. Where is Meyers Leonard, Mason Plumlee, and Maurice Harkless? I understand the Blazers are looking for frontcourt help in the terms of rebounding and shot-blocking but they need to get angry. How many players were driving the lane on Rasheed Wallace or Zach Randolph when they played for the Blazers? They played with toughness.
The Blazers can make all the trades they want but it will still be up to the current roster to provide that toughness. It’s more than a player’s skill-set, it resides in the mental aspect of the game. No one fears the Blazers and this is the first thing coaches must teach in practice. Maybe they need to have an all out fight one day and see who has it in them and then go from there.
Lillard and McCollum are the scores but they need protection if the Blazers are to make a run. Ask Thomas and Dumars how well that worked for them.