Portland heads into All-Star break with 5-game losing skid
Deemed a “make-or-break” six-game road trip by LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers got off to a shaky start by barely hanging on to a victory over Minnesota despite having a 19-point lead going into the fourth quarter. Judging by how the rest of the trip went, fans would gladly take a shaky victory.
What followed were losses in Dallas, Houston, Orlando and Miami that could be described as frustrating, admirable, embarrassing and predictable.
Now as the Trail Blazers limp into the All-Star break following an ugly 99-63 loss to New Orleans, the team faces a dilemma: stay competitive or start playing the young guys.
At 25-28, the team sits three games out of the final playoff spot in the West. If Portland has any notion of making the postseason, they will need to improve a paltry 8-20 road record as well as keep one eye on the Rockets, Lakers and Jazz.
Houston seems to be getting better and better, Utah has been consistently good all year and the once struggling Lakers have caught up like we all thought they eventually would. Those 20-15 Blazers who beat Miami at home on national television seem like a thing of the past now.
While they aren’t out of the playoff picture yet, it might be in Portland’s best interests to start thinking about focusing on seeing what they have in players like Will Barton, Victor Claver, Joel Freeland and especially Meyers Leonard. When the season started, Portland was adamant that this was not a “rebuilding” year but a “reloading” one. The team knows what they have in their starters, but it’s the bench players who are in need of some serious attention.
This year has had its fair share of entertaining games and pleasant individual surprises, but being an “average” NBA team isn’t a position you want to be in. Fans never want to see a team quote unquote “tank” for the rest of a season, but Portland needs to start thinking about the future rather than the present.
The team has a top-12 protected draft pick this year meaning if they pick anywhere between 1-12 in the draft, they get to keep it. If they fall out of that, the pick goes to Brooklyn as part of the Gerald Wallace trade last year. For a small market like Portland, which isn’t exactly a desirable destination for free-agents, the more draft picks the better.
So while this season has been fun and entertaining, it might be time to fall on the sword and lick your wounds. Fans won’t like it, but they need to think about the bigger picture.
Lillard gets another milestone
In the first week of the season, Damian Lillard was doing things very few have ever matched as a rookie. Joining a list that included Oscar Robertson, Isiah Thomas and Lebron James, Lillard set marks for most points and assists through a rookie’s first game and first week of the season. But now he can say he’s on a list all to his own.
During the Blazers and Rockets game, Portland’s young point guard became the first player in NBA history to score 900+ points and make 100+ 3-pointers in his first 50 games. Not bad for a guy who seemed to fall to sixth in last year’s draft because he played four years of college ball against inferior opponents.
Lillard’s greatest strength appears to be his ability to stay calm under pressure and handle adversity. After having the worst game of his young career against Orlando (1-16 shooting, 4 points), the Blazers’ young stud bounced back with 33 points against the defending NBA champion Miami Heat.
Lillard isn’t going to blow you away with unbelievable quickness or flashy cross-overs like a Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook, he’s just going to come to work everyday, do his thing and set records in the process. With that kind of style and mentality, who needs flash.