HANG TIME WEST – Nothing was said. Nothing needed to be.
“There was mutual agreement,” Robin Lopez said. An understanding.
“I had an idea of why I was here,” he said. “And I think they did, too.”
The Trail Blazers obviously knew what they wanted, considering it was their idea. They’re the ones who traded for Lopez as part of a three-team deal with the Pelicans and the Kings with the plan of making him the rim protector and centerpiece of the sorely needed defensive upgrade. The Blazers finished 29th in shooting defense and 21st in scoring defense last season.
Lopez could read the numbers. “I don’t think defense was one of their focuses last year,” he said. “Especially their starters. They were very potent offensively and so they were more looking toward that side of the floor.” So Lopez arrived from New Orleans with an attitude as much as a 7-foot presence inside.
“Anytime on the floor, I want to be hard-nosed, I want to be rugged,” he said. “I want to do the little things that don’t necessarily show up in the stat sheet. I know it’s very cliché, but I think the little things are really important as far as what constitutes the game. It’s the little things.”
He has tried to be physical with a couple of the young bigs, Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson, in practice to push them toward that mindset. He’s appreciated it when they gave the same back. He has tried to be aggressive in general. He has, in the tangible results, gone from 1.56 blocks in 26 minutes a game last season in New Orleans to 2.25 in 28.5 the first four games of 2013-14.
Except, so far, that has not led to Portland improving. Opponents shot 47.4 percent last season; they’re shooting 47.6 this season. The Blazers have given up 104 points to the Suns, 98 to the Nuggets, 105 to the Spurs and 116 to the Rockets in the 2-2 start. Before the season began, coach Terry Stotts pointed out to his team that the Pelicans were a poor defensive team even with Lopez playing all 82 games, that the Blazers cannot rely on the hoped-for upgrade from J.J. Hickson to solve the problems, and now they have gone from encouraging gains during exhibition play to more of the same.
“I think there are a lot of variables,” Stotts said. “I don’t think you can point to just one thing. But I noticed that when Tyson Chandler came into Dallas [when Stotts was an assistant there] and had that same demeanor and attitude coming in. Robin is very serious about it and I think we all know, coaches and players, that for us to achieve the goals that we want, we need to improve defensively. In this league, if you have a guy to anchor, that’s a great start.”