How Sustainable is the Trail Blazers' Defense?
Portland has opened the season with a top-10 defense. Can they keep it up?
The Trail Blazers' 9-4 start to the season has been a surprise to a lot of people. The bigger surprise is that they've been doing it defensively.
In the past, the 2018-19 Western Conference Finals run notwithstanding, Portland's success has been through the sheer fact that Damian Lillard is a top-five offense unto himself, whatever he has around him.
This year, Lillard has been in and out of the lineup with a calf injury. He's been largely back to pre-surgery, All-NBA form, but he hasn't been the sole force carrying them. The Blazers' offense through 13 games has been middle-of-the pack, scoring 111.6 points per 100 possessions, the 16th-best mark in the league.
The defense is what has made them elite. As of Monday afternoon, Portland ranked sixth in defensive rating (according to NBA.com), giving up just 109.7 points per 100 possessions.
"I've always said I think defense travels," head coach Chauncey Billups said after Monday's practice. "You never know if you're going to make shots that night. But if we're locked in defensively, we're communicating defensively, you're going to give yourself a chance to win. I think anytime you become a defensive team, you can sustain that."
But just how sustainable is this hot defensive start? The types of shots they're giving up suggest a regression may be coming.