Defense, defense, more defense.
That was the focus of first-year coach Terry Stotts first practice Tuesday morning at the Trail Blazers facility.
Paul Allen sat next to new general manager Neil Olshey as they watched the 19 players on the training camp roster go at it for more than two hours in preparation for the Oct. 10 preseason opener against the Los Angeles Lakers.
It was great to see the new approach Terry and the other coaches have instituted, Portlands owner said. There was a lot of energy out there.
Defense has been something Ive been looking for an improvement in for a few years, so it was exciting seeing that be emphasized. And we have a lot of changes in our roster, so it was exciting to see the new players.
Rookies Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard and Will Barton went through their first official workouts as Blazers.
We have to find out how good our draft picks are, Allen said, Were very optimistic. From what weve seen so far from them, we have high expectations and theyve exceeded those. But we have yet to play a preseason game.
Lillard seems to be taking defense as a challenge.
We really got after it at the defensive end of the floor, the point guard from Weber State said. Thats the end of my game I need to improve on.
Im sure people are saying, Hes a strong point guard; is he going to be able to pass the ball and get people involved? But they never talk about the defensive end. I think its important for me to get up and challenge people so I get better at it.
All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge seemed tired as he met with the media afterward.
We spent about an hour in a defensive stance, doing slides, closing out, Aldridge said. The drills were real tough today. We were working on weak side, working on guys talking, things like that.
Stotts and his staff are emphasizing vocal communication among the players when playing defense.
There was a lot of talk, veteran guard Wesley Matthews said. Everybody was talking. We want everybody to be on the same page. That just makes us better. If youre talking, youre going to put yourself in the right position, because you have to talk out what youre doing.
If we get to the point where we know everybodys going to be, were going to be a tough team to beat.
Olshey indicated he feels the biggest question mark defensively is at center, where J.J. Hickson is ticketed to start, with rookies Leonard and Joel Freeland behind him.
We knew we had some issues defensively at the point of attack, Olshey said. Damian can defend his position. Ronnie Price is a lockdown defender. Nic (Batum) is an excellent defender.
The big growth for us is how quickly we can find a rim protector. On the perimeter, were going to be very good defensively, and at the 4, LaMarcus length is a problem for people. The quicker J.J., Meyers and Joel can be a presence in the paint protecting the rim, that will dictate our back-line communication and how quickly we become an overall solid defensive team.