Originally written on Cascadia Sports  |  Last updated 11/10/14
  Portland Trail Blazers’ point guard Damian Lillard commented to journalist Henry Abbott earlier this month that the Blazers could expect 46 wins this season.  What should fans make of this prediction?  46 wins will eek them into the seventh or eighth spot of the Western Conference Playoffs’ lineup.  46 wins is safely pessimistic.  46 wins predicts the same sort of mediocre playing that has been boring Blazers’ fans since the 2010-2011 season.  Implied by Lillard’s prediction is that the Blazers are still missing some key dynamic factor(s). Ball-handling by the Blazers has been disheartening.  They allowed their opponents 691 steals through the course of the 2012-2013 season, earning them 27th in vogue for turnovers.  It’s almost as if they didn’t want the ball.  This is a problem.  Veterans like Mo Williams  and Dorell Wright will likely encourage improvement in this area and Lillard should show progress in his second year.  But none of these solutions are really a magic bullet.  Blazers still have a hole to fill here in order to excel. Blazers’ 2012-2013 hustle on defense also lagged.   Last season, they ranked 28th in the league in steals. In fact, they had a total of 538 steals to the league average 639.   That means they had 101 fewer steals than the average NBA team. That’s not all.  They had a low number of blocked shots.  Lopez, as the predicted first string center for the 2013-2014 season, seems the likely candidate to bolster this category.  But his record for blocks in the NBA is not great. Lamarcus Aldridge, the reigning center, offers little in this category.  Nicolas Batum provided over 20% of the team’s blocked shots last season and his defensive skills have improved over time. But Batum cannot do it alone. This presents a mid-season opportunity to pick up a player with good defensive potential. The Trail Blazers are perched at the entry to the Western Conference playoffs. Lillard predicts they will make it, but just.  To excel, the team must nurture the ball more—hold on to it, value it, salvage it from their opponents.  They must follow Batum’s defensive lead and show greater hustle.  Fixing these things coupled with improving an already solid offense should lead to the kind of winning season for which fans have been waiting.

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