It’s no secret these days that the Trail Blazers are reeling.
They have lost three in a row, all at home, and all while trailing by 19 or more points.
Making matters worse, starters Jusuf Nurkic (right ankle) and Maurice Harkless (left quad bruise) did not practice Thursday, making the next game – Saturday at home against the Western Conference-leading Houston Rockets – appear even more ominous.
So what do the Blazers (13-11) have to do to turn it around?
Here are five things that would help their cause:
1. CJ MCCOLLUM BREAKS OUT OF SHOOTING SLUMP
The Blazers’ silky shooting guard is in the midst of one of his worst shooting skids of his five-year career, despite his insistence that his shot feels good and his satisfaction with getting the shots he wants.
McCollum has four consecutive games in which he hasn’t made at least half of his shots, only the fifth time that has happened in his career. During the four-game skid he is shooting 34.2 percent (25-of-73), which includes just five of 20 from three-point range.
[NBC Sports Gold "Blazers Pass" 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 - click to learn more and buy]
The 34.2 percent shooting is the third worst slump he has endured in his career, behind a five-game slump in December of 2015 when he made only 29 percent (27-of-93) and a six-game slump in January of 2016 when he made 33.3 percent (39-of-117). That six game skid matches a spell in November and December of 2016 of his most consecutive games without making 50 percent or better of his shots.
One of the more confident players on the team, McCollum said he won’t change anything, except maybe try to get to the free throw line more.
“I’ve had some good looks,’’ McCollum saud. “I just have to continue to be aggressive.’’
2. TAKE BETTER CARE OF THE BALL
Two of the Blazers’ losses this homestand were defined by sloppy play that resulted in 19 turnovers. Against Milwaukee, it led to 29 points for the Bucks, while Washington cashed the mistakes into 23 points.
It’s not just the amount, it’s the type of turnovers – mindless passes directly to the defender. Dribbling the ball off the foot out of bounds. Passes into the stands.
After the Blazers’ practice on Thursday, Damian Lillard pointed to ball security as the number one priority moving forward.
“Having quality possessions and also valuing the ball,’’ Lillard said. “I think when we defend so hard and work so hard on the defensive end and come down on offense and don’t execute well and turn the ball over … that takes the life out of the team, takes the life out of the game … we have to be much better about it.’’
3. PLAY WITH SOME ENERGY
Speaking of life … the Blazers have shown little to none on this homestand. Lillard said it was fair to say the Blazers have been “flat.”
McCollum said it isn’t that the team is not showing effort, it’s that they aren’t executing, giving the appearance of a flat performance.
So how do the Blazers show some life, or "swagger" as Lillard called it after last game?
For one, says he will lead by example.
“I’m going to look to myself first,’’ Lillard said. “I’m going to hold myself accountable and I’m going to go out there and be the energy to start it off and get guys to vibe from that. Feel that, and want to get on the same page. I think everybody wants to win, everybody on the team are real team players so I think if the train goes that way, that’s what everybody is going jump on and do.’’
4. GET HEALTHY
Nurkic rolled his right ankle with about 6:30 left in Tuesday’s loss to Washington and although X-rays were negative, he was unable to practice Thursday. McCollum said he only saw Nurkic on the training table and on the exercise bike.
Harkless, meanwhile, bruised his quad in a first-quarter collision with Otto Porter and did not return for the second half. After the game, Harkless was optimistic he would be able to play by Saturday.
Nurkic, obviously, is a big part of the Blazers’ improved defense while Harkless was just put back in the starting lineup on Tuesday before suffering his injury. Harkless first made his name in Portland two seasons ago when he defended Houston’s James Harden well during a February game in Houston. It earned him a look in the starting lineup that he never relinquished until last month.
5. GET OUT AND RUN
The Blazers are in the bottom third of the league in offense, and are dead last in the NBA in fast break points, but several players Thursday said they welcome the matchup against the Rockets because it will likely mean a fast-paced game with increased possessions and open-court play.
“It’s more possessions, so kind of ride a wave, get a high-scoring total … an opportunity to somewhat get buckets,’’ Turner said. “That’s the focal point everybody is focusing on – why we haven’t been getting scoring at a high level – so maybe trick the message.’’
The Rockets, behind MVP candidate James Harden – who is leading the league in scoring and assists – are the league’s second highest scoring team, and have the best record in the West, which both McCollum and Lillard said is just the type of opponent the Blazers need.
“Why not?’’ McCollum asked with a smile.
“It’s perfect,’’ Lillard said. “Our next two games are against the best two teams in the West. Losing three straight games, what better situation than to have a chance to take a shot at the two best teams. To me, it’s the perfect situation to put something together.’’