See? I told you so.
A few weeks back (April 6, to be exact), I pointed out that the Portland Trail Blazers had a won-lost record that seemed not at all to correlate with the points scored and allowed in their actual games. They were a slightly sub-.500 team posting wins like a squad that wins 50 games in a normal 82-game season.
Since I said that (early enough in the day that they hadn’t yet played the Los Angeles Clippers that night), Portland is 2-8.
And what’s more, four of those losses, including the last three in a row, have been by one or two points.
Portland’s Net Rating continues to hover at or near zero (plus-0.4 at the time of that article three weeks ago, minus-0.4 now), except now instead of being on a prorated 82-game pace of eight wins above expectation, which would put them among the biggest outliers in NBA history, they’re now closer to plus-4, something far more in line with expectations since that happens to at least one and sometimes multiple teams every year.
It’s not as though the Blazers have crashed down to earth with a thud statistically.
They’re still second in the league in 3PAR and seventh in 3-point percentage. They still turn the ball over less often than any team in the league. And they’ve still got the sixth-ranked offense.
But the defense is an absolute turd—they’re 29th in Defensive Rating, 26th in opponents’ eFG%, 21st in defensive rebound percentage. And teams with terrible defenses have a funny habit of getting into games that end, oh, I dunno, 116-115 (their loss to Boston), 113-112 (Clippers), 106-105 in a game played at a 91.4 pace (Denver), or the piece de resistance, 130-128 (Memphis, Friday night at home.)
Dillon Brooks, who has been a garbage fire shooting the ball this season (.482 eFG%), lit up the Blazers’ defense for 25 points on 11-of-18 shooting in that last game mentioned above. Ja Morant, who isn’t a good shooter either (.490 eFG%), scored 33 on 11-of-17.
This is what having terrible defense gets you when the basketball gods decide that it’s time for your gaudy record to get a little welcome-to-reality five-across-the-eyes smackdown.
Portland’s losses are littered with shooting like this. The Clippers shot 45-of-90 from the field in their one-point win, including 34-of-52 (65.4 percent!) on their 2-point shots.
Charlotte, a middle-of-the-road team offensively (17th in eFG%, 18th in Offensive Rating), beat Portland 109-101 behind an 18-of-43 night from long range and Terry Rozier (whose shooting has been superb this year as he finally realizes the potential he showed in the 2018 playoffs in Boston) lighting them up for a .688 eFG% by himself on his way to 34 points.
If the season ended today, April 25, Portland would be the 7 seed and forced to face first Memphis (who just beat them) and then, if they lost that game, the winner of San Antonio and Golden State (the Warriors, at 30-30, are 10th in a stacked Western Conference) to determine who gets into the playoffs.
Portland is 1-1 against San Antonio this year, with a squeaker of a road win and a got-thumped-at-home loss.
More intriguing is that Golden State potential matchup, because what have we just seen demonstrated to be one of the Blazers’ greatest weaknesses?
That’s right. Opposing point guards and wings playing out of their minds.
Stephen Curry leads the league in scoring this year at 31.2 points per game. He’s hitting 42.5 percent of his 3-pointers, his eFG% is .611, in line with his performance during the Warriors’ five-consecutive-Finals run, and players like him are Portland’s defensive Achilles heel. Uh-oh.
And Andrew Wiggins, who’s having the season of his life as Golden State’s second option? He’s going to end up looking like Scottie Pippen if given half the chance to do so.
The point of all this is that y’all need to listen to me when I say something. And I said the Portland Trail Blazers would have a brutal regression to the mean at some point.
They started the very day I said it.
See, I told you so.