NEW YORK CITY – It’s not the way the Trail Blazers, who now hold a 14-20 record, were looking to head out on this latest five-game road trip.
Portland started out red hot against the Suns Monday night, and most would think after witnessing such an impressive first quarter that the Blazers were going to steam roll Phoenix. They were up 19 points.
And then, the Blazers ended up losing.
It was their fourth straight loss.
But now, Damian Lillard and his teammates are forcing themselves to set their focus on the next five contests away from Moda Center.
“We’ve got to put these games behind us because we can’t get them back,” Lillard said after Monday’s loss.
That’s the Blazers thinking right now: Put the losing streak behind them.
Winning enough is hard. Winning on the road is even harder.
As Portland embarks on this 10-day trip, Carmelo Anthony explained that it's imperative that they have a short memory.
This doesn’t even matter anymore going into this five-game road trip. The only thing that matter is having a great road trip, going out there getting some wins, starting in New York. Even though it’s easier said than done – putting this game behind us… We have an opportunity to do something special on this road trip. -- Trail Blazers veteran Carmelo Anthony
Portland will make stops in New York, Washington, Miami and Toronto before finishing up in Minnesota on January 9th.
Lillard mentioned how they are “a lot of winnable games” on this trip, beginning with the first two.
The Knicks and Wizards have a combined win total of 19.
As the Blazers continue to deal with their myriad of injuries, including the latest one with Skal Labissiere, who is not going to be with the team on the trip, the Blazers aren’t using that as an excuse.
Nor should they.
“Everybody in the world knows that we’ve got every injury you could possibly have,” Lillard said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys hurt and nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. Nobody’s going to say, ‘Oh they’re hurt, and it’s okay.’ We come out, we show up and we play. Our job is to go out there and try to win games and right now we’re not doing a good enough job of it and it’s that simple.”
CJ McCollum also put it simply: They’re just looking to get the job done.
No ands, ifs, or buts, about it.
McCollum was quick to answer when asked what is the main focus on this trip:
“We’re going to try to win games. We are in a position to try to make a push for the playoffs. Five games on the road trip, we got to try to win as many as possible and take advantage of leads when we get up.”
In order for the Blazes to win games, they know there is plenty to shore up defensively.
With Lillard, McCollum and Melo, the Blazers can get a bucket when needed.
But can they get a stop when needed?
“I don’t think it’s one thing,” Lillard explained when discussing what the Blazers need to work on defensively. “I think it’s just being able to sustain a certain level to where even when we do give up or have a breakdown, it’s not such a big breakdown and it’s not in such big moments. I think it seems like it always happens at the wrong time for us. It happens in stretches. But the problem is that it always happens. That’s an issue. “
That has become a big issue for Portland-- lapses of bad defense, especially down the stretch of games, has been one of the Blazers’ biggest thorns in their side besides the injuries.
“It’s going to be hard to put a complete game together, especially against good teams when you always have these lapses and miscommunications," Lillard continued. "It was times tonight where it was like practice threes. That’s not people just being lazy – that’s miscommunications, not being alert and just not being sharp enough at that time. It just happens to us too often.”
The Blazers know what they need to do.
But, is it time to look elsewhere?
Do the Blazers need to bring in a big or power forward to turn things around?
That's not a bad idea.
However, according to Melo, they may just need to get away from it all and be forced to focus on themselves.
I think we’ll figure it out. This is where we’ll come together as a group, as a team, and we’ll figure it out on this road trip… These injuries that we have you can’t control that, but we have guys on this team that know how to play, a lot of experience, know this type of situation, have been in these situations before whether here or somewhere else, and we got be ready. Like I said I think this road trip will really bring us together. You know, going on the road, sometimes you need to get away from home… Because it’s all about us on the road.
As for Anthony's big return to the Big Apple, that couldn’t be further from his mind.
“I’ll deal with that on Wednesday.”
Portland will also begin dealing with their task at hand on Wednesday -- a complete game against the Knicks.