Blazers Must Learn to Close Out Inferior Competition

During Portland’s hot start, we’ve seen a troubling issue arise which Terry Stotts and his coaching staff are surely panicked to fix. The Trail Blazers regularly turn lax late in games, squelching double digit leads to inferior competition. Over the next two-weeks the Blazers face the Thunder, Jazz, Mavericks, Rockets and 76ers. The upcoming schedule is an important stretch for the Blazers, with less competitive teams sandwiched between Western Conference playoff hopefuls.

Contrary to what some believe, the Blazers have taken good care of the basketball. They’re ninth in turnover differential, fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio, and fifth best in turnovers. Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge have this team playing as a dominant and cohesive unit, and it’s working.

Beating the Pacers showed us that Portland has a killer instinct in tight games, but their consistency with leads is lacking.

After jumping out to a lead Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Blazers relaxed in the second quarter and entered the half with only a three point lead. With the game tightened up, it didn’t take long for Portland to reassert dominance. The Blazers, on the road, were putting on a show at Staples Center.

Offensively, the third quarter against the Lakers was the best Portland has played all year, scoring 41 points. But as time trickled away in the fourth, they found themselves fighting a single-digit lead against a late Laker push. The Blazers simply do not keep their foot down as they break out leads, cycling through spurts of performance and apathy over the course of games.

Lillard and Aldridge are getting the buckets, Wes Matthews is shooting a ridiculous percentage from outside, and Nic Batum and Robin Lopez are crashing the boards. The effort is there, it’s just not consistent. Playoff and championship caliber teams put mediocre teams away, and that’s what the Blazers need to do.

At this point, Portland fans should be more worried about teams like the Lakers, Jazz, and 76ers rather than teams in the top tier. As we saw against the Pacers on Monday, the Blazers get themselves up for games like that and perform with passion. Oddly, it’s the bad teams Portland has to worry about right now. And that’s worrying.


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