The Portland Trail Blazers have begun the young NBA season with a slow 2-3 start. With all the expectations and talk to begin the season, Portland has not lived up to the hype that they themselves produced. Other than Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum starting the season strong leading the team in scoring, Portland has not had its role players produce at the level necessary to win.
Al-Farouq Aminu, the starting power forward, is shooting 9 for 37, 24% through five games including 5-24 from beyond the three point line. Maurice Harkless is shooting 5 for 14 from beyond the three point arc, which is not helping to space the floor for Lillard and McCollum when teams are doubling them or strategizing to get the ball out of their hands. Portland has to get more consistent shooting from Aminu and Harkless or someone else in order to execute against the defenses that are ganging up the Trail Blazers backcourt.
Allen Crabbe has been strong off the bench for Portland to start the season averaging 11 points a game while shooting 50% from the field but is 7 for 17 from the three point line. The outside shooting from guys other than the starting backcourt for Portland is a key for their offense and needed to help them win games.
Defensively, the Trail Blazers have struggled with consistency and slowing teams down. The Golden State Warriors blew out Portland Tuesday night 127-104 in a rematch of last year’s second round matchup between the two teams. Thursday night, Portland lost a very close game in OT against the Phoenix Suns, who hit a three at the buzzer to win 118-115. Portland ranks 30th in the league in points allowed, giving up 115.2 points a game through five games. After the loss Thursday to the Suns, Damian Lillard expressed his frustration, according to Joe Freeman, The Oregonian: “But it’s frustrating when you’re not being better. You don’t want to keep saying it. At some point, it’s put up or shut up. And it’s time for us to shut up and start putting up.” Lillard is upset because he knows this team is better than what they have shown so far and his expectations are a good sign as he holds his team to a high standard. Even though they have struggled early, this team will be better when they figure things out.
Lillard knows his team needs to step up defensively and believes they will. “It’s great for us to go through some of these things early rather than later,” he said. “We’ve got smart guys, we’ve got competitive guys and we’ve got good guys. So I’m sure we’ll solve and it and we’ll be better.”
The team talked about emphasizing defense in training camp but the Trail Blazers are near the worst in the league in scoring defense through five games. That should improve with time as this group grows together, but it’s definitely not the way Portland thought they would start after all the talk early about how good this team could be. Portland will need its other starting role players to shoot the ball with better accuracy moving forward, as that is imperative to helping the flow of the offense. Early season bumps in the road are expected to some degree but Portland has got to sure up some of these issues as they plan on being one of the elite teams in the Western Conference.