Hello, Blazers fans, Antonio here. Boy, do the Blazers need Damian Lillard or what? Lillard sat over the short two-game road trip, nursing a bad hamstring. After surviving a close game against the Spurs, they came face-to-face with the most fun team in the league: The Charlotte Hornets.
A 23 point first quarter deficit later, Portland exited North Carolina with a .500 road trip. The schedule just gets tougher from here, and Dame will not return against the Clippers on Tuesday either. Let’s take a closer look at games without him.
Defensive Woes Continue But Might Be Improving
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Blazers’ defense was tough to watch. The season-long struggles continued as Charlotte scored 44 points in the first quarter. The top-notch defensive effort by Portland led to this tough dunk by Miles Bridges.
This horrific play aside, Portland’s defense might be getting “better”. Since Jusuf Nurkic’s return, Portland’s defense has gone from 29th to 19th. In the fourth quarter against the Hornets, the Blazers looked like an average defensive team, and against San Antonio, they even bordered on good. It’s improving, but to say the defense is good would be an outright lie.
Hollis-Jefferson Over Jones
Without Lillard in the Lineup, Terry Stotts opted to start Derrick Jones Jr. against San Antonio. The Blazers won, but Jones did not score. Mired in a midseason slump, Jones might not be playing his best basketball of the season. But when Stotts announced that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson started, complaints rang out.
Hollis-Jefferson is on his second 10-day contract of the season and played decent enough to stay on the roster. In his start against Charlotte, he totaled seven points and five rebounds. However, the decision to leave Jones out to dry is puzzling.
Stotts has been hard on Derrick Jones all year. After being benched for newcomer Norman Powell, Jones’ minutes have slipped. That is understandable, but a healthy scratch for the best defensive player on the Blazers makes less and less sense.
Topsy Turvy Melo & Simons
Carmelo Anthony might be the second most inconsistent player in the league, behind his teammate Anfernee Simons. Both players can absolutely light up the scoresheet; Melo poured in 24 against Charlotte, Simons had 16 against the Spurs. Beautiful. Simons would only score five points against Charlotte, and Melo shot poorly the week prior. Not so beautiful.
While inconsistent, these two players might be the most fascinating on Portland’s bench. When Melo is on, he’s ON. Take his 16 points fourth quarter against Charlotte, for instance. Anthony kept Portland in the game. And Simons has proven himself to be a reliable spot-up shooter. If both players can even out their highs and lows, good night. They could be the key to the next step Portland needs to make.
Next Up: A Tuesday night TNT game against the Clippers.
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