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After being 'outplayed' in disappointing Bulls loss, Blazers look to find defensive footing

Defense has been the biggest factor for why the team has had a middling start. The Blazers rank 28th out of 30 NBA teams in defensive efficiency.
Credit: AP
Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum, left, dribbles around Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Trail Blazers are coming off two disappointing losses to the Golden State Warriors and Chicago Bulls, and are now just 3-4 so far this season.

The loss against the Bulls, the first this season by an NBA team who led by at least 20 points, was met with a sharp critique from head coach Terry Stotts. He said Chicago not only outplayed the Blazers, but played harder. All-Star point guard Damian Lillard agreed with his coach’s assessment.

“I think [Stotts] is right that our energy dropped some, our activity level dropped,” Lillard said. “We started to get outworked and it didn’t help that we weren’t making shots. We had a bad defensive half.”

The defense has been a glaring weakness for the Blazers and has been the biggest factor for why the team has had a middling start. The team ranks 28th out of 30 NBA teams in defensive efficiency.

For fans wanting to look at Portland’s start to the season with a glass half-full mindset, there could be some reasons for optimism on the horizon.

Portland is still toward the beginning of a month-long stretch of the schedule in which the Blazers are expected to go on a streak of wins. Portland plays nine of its next 11 games at home, mostly against teams who are struggling or not expected to make the playoffs. And while the Blazers haven’t built the record fans and players were hoping for to this point, there hasn’t been much separation in the Western Conference. Entering Thursday night’s slate of games only three teams, the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, have records better than 4-4.  

In addition, beloved center Jusuf Nurkic, who admitted to entering the season out of shape, played perhaps his best game of the season against the Bulls. And guard C.J. McCollum is off to the best start to a season in his career, averaging 27 points per game and shooting 43% on 3-pointers.

But if the Blazers are going to start piling up wins, and begin separating themselves as one of the elite teams in the Western Conference, it’s going to come down to improvement on the defensive end. General manager Neil Olshey said the team's biggest goal this offseason was improving defensively, which is why the Blazers traded for Robert Covington and signed Derrick Jones Jr. But so far, those moves have not paid consistent dividends on the defensive end of the floor.

But even in this truncated season, there’s still a lot of games left for the Blazers to find their stride. 

On this week’s episode of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast KGW sports anchor Orlando Sanchez, along with Jared Cowley and Nate Hanson, discuss whether they’ve lost confidence in the Blazers so far this season, McCollum’s hot start and how Portland will fare over the next four games against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings, Toronto Raptors and Kings again. Max Barr is also back with the return of everyone's favorite game: Rip It!

LISTEN: KGW's 3-on-3 Blazers Podcast 

CHIME IN! If you have a question about the Blazers that you'd like us to answer on the next podcast, email us at 3on3blazers@gmail.com or tweet your questions to Orlando SanchezNate HansonJared Cowley or Max Barr.