Trail Blazers Finally Healthy, But Have a Lot to Figure Out
Despite Jerami Grant's return, the Blazers dropped their sixth straight game to Dallas.
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PORTLAND, Ore. — For weeks, Chauncey Billups has talked about his excitement over one day having a full deck to play with.
That day finally came for the Trail Blazers on Saturday, but it came with a reality check: just because everyone is healthy doesn't mean they don't still have a lot to figure out. A sixth straight loss, their second in a week at home to Dallas, made that clear.
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Outside of the first half of the season opener against the Clippers, Saturday is as healthy as the Blazers will ever be this season. Anfernee Simons tore a ligament in his thumb midway through that first game, and only returned five games ago. In the time in between, Scoot Henderson missed time with an ankle injury, Robert Williams III underwent season-ending knee surgery and Malcolm Brogdon and Deandre Ayton missed games here and there. Most recently, Jerami Grant missed two weeks in the concussion protocol. His return on Saturday (and he was excellent, finishing with 27 points on 12-of-20 shooting) was the last piece to the Blazers returning to as full health as they'll get the rest of the way.
And, as you'd expect a team with so many absences to be, the Blazers team that took the floor on Saturday was all out of sorts on both ends. That much was obvious when, less than 30 seconds into the second quarter, Billups called a timeout to chew out his team—and in particular Ayton—for not executing their defensive coverage at the start of the half.
"I was upset at us," Billups said. "We came out and said what we were gonna do at the start of the quarter, and right away we don't do it. We were supposed to blitz, and we don't blitz the ball. I hate to have to waste a timeout on that. It's not really wasted, because I'm getting my point across, but at the same time, we're short on timeouts the rest of the way. I'd rather attack it right away, but it sucks that I had to attack that. We're getting our ass kicked in the first half, we come in and talk about what we need to do, and then we come out and we're not focused. It's not ideal."
"We have mental lapses at times, and that was one of them," Grant said. "It was building. We had things we were supposed to be doing, and we weren't doing them."
The laundry list of things the Blazers have to figure out is long. Simons and Ayton have played just three games together; now that Simons is running point full-time, he's the one that will have to figure out how to get Ayton more touches. Shaedon Sharpe has looked lost to start this homestand after an excellent first half of December. The duality of Henderson's early development was on display on Friday: he had one of his worst halves of the season in the first, and one of his best halves in the second.
These are the things young teams always have to work through. Getting on the same page now that the reinforcements are here is another layer of it. They could use a vibes win in the worst way.
"It's basically like being at the start of the season. It takes teams two or three weeks to figure out the real rotation. It takes time. You can't just throw guys back together. Guys have been out, and the guys that have been in have been playing with extended minutes and more shots, and that's an adjustment for them, too. It's an adjustment for everybody, and those things just take time."