So the Portland Trail Blazers have figured out that defense is a bit of a problem? Really? And that iceberg was a bit of a nuisance for the Titanic, wasn't it?

If you follow basketball closely, you know there is one true way to measure how well a team plays on defense. It's not points allowed. That's controlled by your offense. If you run or take quick shots, the other team has more possessions. You score more, they score more. If you milk the shot clock, you'll hold your opponents to fewer points.

The true measure is what percentage your opponents shoot from the field. It was no accident that Milwaukee shot .582 against the Blazers Tuesday night.

In its first 22 games, Portland allowed its opponents to shoot .470. That's far and away the worst in the NBA. Only one other defense is above .450. You can't win when you allow opponents to shoot that well, unless you're a great shooting team or an overpowering rebounding team. The Blazers are neither.

How bad is it when you allow.470 shooting? Well, you're in special territory. The last team to allow opponents to shoot even .465 was the 2001-02 Chicago Bulls. They finished 21-61. In 2000-01, three teams allowed percentages above .465: the Bulls (.472), Washington Wizards (.470) and Golden State Warriors (.472). Their record was a combined 51-195.

Defense seems to be the constant for winning teams in all sports. And in this case, it's pretty easy to see that the Blazers are fortunate to have won as many games as they have.

General Manager John Nash said the other day that he thought the team's rather bad chemistry plays a part in it. Perhaps. Maybe a little. But I've seen some teams with poor chemistry Ñ right here in Portland even Ñ defend a lot better than these guys do.

Two other factors matter much more: This team simply does not have many skilled defenders and, even more critical, it does not seem to have a reliable defensive system that allows for consistent help.

You can't guard NBA players one-on-one. They're too talented. The successful teams have systems that allow for double-teams, with help and solid rotations to cover open players. The Blazers show almost none of that.

And that, quite clearly, is coaching.

During the four seasons when Mike Dunleavy coached the Blazers, his teams were fourth, sixth, fifth and 11th in opponents' shooting percentage.

In the three seasons of Maurice Cheeks, the Blazers have been 23rd, 23rd and currently dead last at 29th. They've plummeted because Scottie Pippen, who basically served as the team's defensive coordinator, is gone. There's no longer any defensive strategy or philosophy evident when you study the Blazers.

Bottom line: A lot of Portland's defensive problems have to do with coaching. Or lack of it.

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