Crunch time defense could save the Blazers

Mike Richman

The whiteboard at the far end of the home locker room bares the truth at the end of each Trail Blazers game. In the home locker room at the Moda Center, scrawled across the dry erase board is  the team's defensive rating and the number of stops they came away with in each quarter and each half.

Usually a member of the PR staff will slide the cover over the board, hiding the gory details as the press wades into the locker room. The Blazers aren't a good defensive team, and the numbers on the white board often spell that out in neatly separated, excruciating detail.

But on Wednesday night, the black dry erase marker offered some good news before it was obscured from view. It just took a little while to find the friendly numbers because for most of the night against the Sacramento Kings, the Blazers defense was a sieve, ceding points at every turn. 

When the Blazers got into the locker room at halftime the number on the board was 128. The home team had given up 66 points in the first half and allowed the Kings to shoot 50 percent. The board showed the truth: 128 points per 100 possessions, marked down on the whiteboard. If the numbers up on the board didn't get the point across, the words from the coaching staff helped drive it home.

"Coaches came in here at halftime and kinda lit us up about our defense in the first half," said Blazers wing Kent Bazemore.

The halftime message didn't exactly stick immediately, and the postgame white board would bare the ugly truth of the third quarter, a 124 defensive rating and 31 more points from the Kings. The Blazers were scoring with ease, but the Kings were hanging around because Portland couldn't string together stops. 

In a game like tonight where we didn't defend great for the first three quarters or so, it was a constant topic in our huddles. Like, ‘We've got to get stops. The offense is doing well, but we're not getting enough stops." When the game was on the line, I thought we stepped up and did what we had to do. -- Damian Lillard

The Blazers pulled away in the fourth quarter on the strength of a couple big baskets from Lillard and a defense that finally started to get stops consistently. Of course the white board had the goods, the final numbers offering some good news: an 84 defensive rating in the fourth quarter and 15 stops.

We just had to find a way to win, and with the way everything has been going it's good to kinda buck up and get a good win tonight. -- Kent Bazemore

This was not a defensive masterpiece by any means, but it's the direction the Blazers (9-13) have to start moving if they're going to climb in the standings. Portland is 21st in the league in defensive rating on the season, allowing 111 points per 100 possessions. But the Blazers have been even worse in the final frame, ranking 28th in the league with a 116.2 defensive rating in the fourth quarter. 

It's unrealistic to think this team is going to grow into a defensive juggernaut. It's probably not even fair to think they can jump into the top ten in the league. But creeping towards a league average defense is within the realm of possibility, and that journey starts with being serviceable at crunch time. The Blazers have the parts to be a very good offensive group, their defense particularly at crunch time will likely dictate their ultimate ceiling. The win over the Kings was something of a blueprint, showing that there are games when this team can buckle down and get stops when they truly need them.

The path to respectability will continue Friday against the league leading Los Angeles Lakers visiting the Moda Center. And regardless of the outcome the whiteboard in the back of the locker room will display the truth.

Crunch time defense could save the Blazers originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest