The scariest part of Halloween Eve for Portland came from their basketball team. After stunning the league with a blowout opening night win over the New Orleans Pelicans, the Portland Trail Blazers played as expected when you lose four of five starters in one offseason. Out-rebounded by 13 and 58 points in the paint allowed, Blazers big men were frightening before Halloween even began. They contributed to an 18-point loss to the Phoenix Suns, bringing both team’s records to an even 1-1.
Looking ahead to their Halloween night rematch, a few notes must be considered. One is the ridiculously long halftime. Steve Nash was honored by the Suns during the break, and 40 minutes later gameplay resumed. What was a six-point game by the half eventually stretched to an 18-point massacre of the Blazers. Most of the point differential came as a result of foul trouble and lackluster play from Portland though, leading into the next note for consideration.
In game one of the regular season, Portland’s down low defense did a fantastic job keeping Anthony Davis and other Pelican frontcourt members out of the paint. They won the rebound battle by 12 and only conceded 36 points in the paint. Only Mason Plumlee encountered foul trouble, opposed to all five starters recording either four or five fouls versus the Suns.
Coach Terry Stotts needs to address the obvious cause of the foul problem, guard penetration. Almost every time down the court Brandon Knight or Eric Bledsoe marched right past their defenders and into the paint, forming chaos among new Blazers signings over switching and rotations. Resultantly, Phoenix shot 42 free throws from the charity stripe. Meyers Leonard and Plumlee saw limited minutes, unveiling opportunities for Noah Vonleh and Ed Davis to prove themselves. In 21 minutes, Vonleh took a whopping two shots for two points and grabbed just six rebounds. Davis the same, scoring five points and recording two rebounds in 20 minutes after coming off Portland’s first double-double on opening night.
With a back to back against the Suns, the Blazers should be able to adjust and correct their mistakes. The game ended late because of the long halftime, causing the flight home to be behind schedule. Making time for film and practice was therefore tougher to squeeze in. The major talking point should be Tyson Chandler though. He embarrassed Meyers Leonard and Mason Plumlee down low. Boxing him out every shot on both ends of the floor is a must heading into tonight’s game. Keeping him off the glass could reduce the rebound margin experienced last night.
Also key in the pursuit of a Portland victory is helping C.J. McCollum get hot. He put up 37 points en route to the victory over New Orleans, but scored just 16 yesterday. He missed eight of his first 10 shots and finished 7 for 22 from the field. Everyone knows how Damian Lillard will perform on a nightly basis, making McCollum the X-factor among Blazer guards, illustrated through his offensive output in relation to the outcome of the game. Off ball movement, pick and rolls and dribble penetration can create better opportunities for the young guard to shine as he did opening night.