Why Haven’t the Portland Trail Blazers Taken That Next Step?

LOS ANGELES — There’s no place like home, especially after a long road trip.

So many of the problems that plagued the Portland Trail Blazers through four straight losses outside the Moda Center seemed to melt away during their 114-95 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday.

The Blazers’ Charmin-soft defense? It held the Thunder to 37.9 percent shooting.

The unproductive bench? It outscored OKC’s without much fuss, 44-38.

The late-game struggles? Not even Portland, after blowing three consecutive fourth-quarter leads, could give away a 26-point edge in the final frame.

But one good game—even one that gave the Blazers their first win this season on the second half of a back-to-back—can’t soothe all the concerns that cropped up during a 1-4 road trip, especially with the paper-thin Thunder missing their second-leading scorer, Victor Oladipo.

Portland’s defense sits toward the bottom of the NBA’s barrel. Its bench has been one of the least productive in the league. And the team has still underwhelmed in clutch situations, despite sporting one of basketball’s best backcourts between Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

“When you’re an average team, you’re trying to get better in a lot of different areas, and different things can crop up,” head coach Terry Stotts said prior to Portland’s 121-120 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, giving the Blazers an 0-3 record against the team they ousted from the 2016 playoffs.

Many of the same problems popped up in Portland last season during a campaign that, all things considered, was a rousing success.

Those Blazers won 44 games, ousted the Clippers after Chris Paul and Blake Griffin went down and gave the Golden State Warriors a tough five-game series in the face of Stephen Curry’s knee and ankle issues (which knocked him out of the first three).

For a team trying to replace four stalwart starters (LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez), Portland shot past even the most optimistic preseason expectations.

The 2016-17 …

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