Maybe Kerr should have let the players coach...

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USATI

Maybe Kerr should have let the players coach...

The Blazers head into the All-Star break with a huge win over the Golden State Warriors at Moda Center! Damian Lillard led the way 44 points as the Blazers came out hot in the 1st quarter and hung on for the win. 

Box Score: Portland 123, Golden State 117

Rapid Reaction:

Just what the bench ordered: A big game from Big Z

Just what the bench ordered: A big game from Big Z

On Friday night Portland had the difficult task of facing the top team in the league, the Toronto Raptors. But three key things happened, that led to the takedown of the Raptors:

1. After having just three players score in double-figures in Wednesday’s 92-83 loss to Memphis, the Blazers had a total of eight players reach double-digits in their 128-122 win over Toronto.

2. The Trail Blazers’ bench outscored the Raptors’ second unit 58-26. Portland’s reserves are averaging 33.7 points per game, which pegs them at number 22 in the league.

3. All five Trail Blazers' bench players ended the game with a positive Plus-Minus rating on the stats sheet, while all five starters ended in the negative. A rare accomplishment for the bench. 

To say Friday’s performance was a big turnaround game for the Blazers’ bench would be an understatement. Perhaps the biggest individual improvement came from Portland's backup center Zach Collins.

Collins got it done on both ends of the floor against Toronto.  In his 21 minutes of action, Collins was an efficient 6-of-8, scoring 16 points to go along with four rebounds, one steal and one block.

“Obviously, I wasn’t playing very well for a big stretch of, you know, when we were losing, and I try not to think to much about it… I came into every game with a clear head, confident that I was going to play better and finally tonight things went my way,” Collins said.

Collins was averaging 4.6 points per game in his previous 10 games.

“It was just good to see everyone kind of get back into a rhythm and just finally have fun for once,” Collins said.

Nik Stauskas and Seth Curry each scored 13 points apiece as Portland won its third straight home game and snapped a six-game losing streak to the Raptors. 

But, what was it exactly that changed for the bench? Even players were asking that question to each other.

“The first half I kind of turned to Evan and Seth, I asked them what was the difference today and I think it really was just our energy, we were moving the ball well from side to side, we were cutting hard. I think most importantly we were getting stops on the defensive end and kind of run out in transition and not have to call as many plays,” Stauskas said.

The starters recognized just how important the bench was in the win.  

“The bench played extremely well. They came out with energy, extended leads for us. We blew the lead in the fourth quarter after they extended the lead. It was a little role reversal,” McCollum said with a smile.

McCollum also went onto praise Collins' performance in particular. 

“I thought he was great. I thought he attacked the basket. He gotta couple of dunks, putbacks, tip-ins. Defensively, he was at the rim, contesting everything, you know, he was up in coverage on pick and rolls and showed his versatility,” McCollum said.      

The fact that the Trail Blazers were able to get the win, even though all five starters ended the game with a negative plus-minus, proves how much of an impact the bench had on Friday night. All five bench players boasted a positive plus-minus with Collins, Evan Turner and Meyers Leonard all recording a +16.

“It was about time, “ Stauskas said.

“I thought Zach was phenomenal. Zach’s a key to our second unit and when he comes in and he brings that energy to both ends we feed off of that and whether he’s protecting the rim, rebounding, or finishing down on the offensive end. He does a lot of different things for us. It was just really good to see everyone back on track,” Stauskas said.

Collins was also aggressive on the defensive end and was able to stay out of foul trouble, which has become a key for the second year player. Collins finished the game with two personal fouls.

The Blazers’ assist-to-turnover ratio was also stellar on Friday. The Blazers finished with a season-high 29 assists, to just eight turnovers for the game.

“We just did a lot of cutting… We got back to getting stops, that was huge. I thought we moved the ball around. We made them work defensively,” Turner said.

The Blazers’ ball movement was back in full swing and now, as the players said in the locker room, let’s see if this game is a momentum-swinging win.  

How do you beat the NBA's best team? Apparently with the Trail Blazers' bench...

How do you beat the NBA's best team? Apparently with the Trail Blazers' bench...

It was all about the bench Friday night for the Portland Trail Blazers. Totally.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a winning team get all five reserves into the plus category of plus-minus and all five starters on the minus side. But that’s what the Trail Blazers did.

“Their bench was unbelievable,” said Toronto Coach Nick Nurse. “They had 58 points or something like that (actually, it was 58). They just put it on us.

“The Blazers played really fast. They were just flipping the ball around and cutting super hard…. They made the better decisions most of the night. They played with a little more speed than we did tonight.”

The bench played just as it had earlier in the year – a five-man unit playing unselfishly, moving the ball and moving their bodies. But that’s the way that group must play. It doesn't feature a superstar or even a star.

“It’s a matter of playing the right way,” said Seth Curry, who hit five of eight shots, three of five from long distance, had two assists, two steals and no turnovers.

Coach Terry Stotts platooned his two units for most of the game, not by design, he said, but just as it happened circumstantially,

Curry said that helps.

“It does,” he said. “We play a different style than the starting unit. We play at a faster pace. It’s a lot of fun when we have those five guys out there with everybody touching the ball.

“We have Nik, Evan and me who can put the ball on the floor and make plays.

The starters, with two guards who dominate the ball, attempt to get ball and player movement, too, but it’s more difficult with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum having the ball so often.

“Damian and CJ have played that style for a long time and they do it well,” Curry said. “The energy of the second group is a lot different.”

 It was easier to make plays Friday -- the lane was wide open for the second unit because the Raptors chose to stick hard to Meyers Leonard on the perimeter.

“I couldn’t get a look at a three,” Leonard said.

But he got a lot of room for the others to make hard cuts and find openings to the basket.

“That’s what Meyers brings even when he’s not making shots,” Curry said. “He’s a threat out there. That’s the same thing with me and Nik.

“It gets other guys great shots.”

The Blazer bench had 12 assists and only three turnovers. As a team, Portland had a great night with the ball – turning it over just eight times to go with 29 assists.

 “Play faster, move the ball and everybody has the opportunity to make plays,” Curry said of the reserves. “That’s how we played in training camp and how we played to start the season.

“We got back to it tonight and we’ve got to keep it going.”

Of course, it would not be fair to omit the fact that Toronto, the team with the best record in the league, was forced by injuries to play without starters Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry.

But the Blazers, who had lost 10 of their last 15, were happy to take this one any way they could get it.

And especially when the often-maligned bench was very much responsible for it.

Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Toronto Raptors

Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Toronto Raptors

The Trail Blazers look to protect home court tonight, with a 10-4 record at Moda Center.  Before the Blazers and Raptors tipped off from Moda Center both Portland head coach Terry Stotts and Toronto head coach Nick Nurse addressed the media.

Coach Stotts discussed the concerns he has right now with his team and how on different nights he has been more concerned with the defense, but in the last two road games he had issues with the offense. 

Stotts also talked about what has made the Raptors so successful so far this season-- adding Kahwi Leonard was of course a main reason, but Stotts also feels that the Raptors young players have stepped up in a big way. 

Hear from Coach Stotts right here:

Raptors Injury Update: Kawhi Leonard (right hip) will play tonight, but Kyle Lowry (back spasms) is OUT tonight vs. the Blazers. 

Coach Nurse told the media that there are similarities between the Blazers and Warriors and he plans to guard the Blazers in a similar way. 

The Raptors will look to Greg Monroe down low with the injury to Jonas Valanciunas (left thumb). Valanciunas will be out for at least four weeks. 

Hear from Coach Nurse right here: 

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Toronto Raptors: How and Where to Watch

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Toronto Raptors: How and Where to Watch

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your Blazers and stream the games easily on your device.

WHY THIS GAME MATTERS
The Portland Trail Blazers are returning home after a road back-to-back in which Portland lost games to the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies. The Blazers will look to protect home court, with a 10-4 record at Moda Center.  

GAME HEADLINES

Blazers back home
Portland is in need of some of home cooking.  The Blazers are coming off a road trip with back-to-back games in which Portland lost both games, first to the Houston Rockets and then to the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis defeated the Blazers 92-83 on Wednesday night. In the loss, CJ McCollum led the way with 40 points on 16-of-27 shooting, but the rest of the team shot just 27 percent.

Looking to slow down Toronto
Friday’s game will be the third game of the Raptors current four-game West Coast trip. Toronto beat the Warriors 113-93 on Wednesday night. Kyle Lowry finished with 23 points, 12 assists and five rebounds and Serge Ibaka added 20 points and 12 rebounds.  The Raptors hold the best record in the league right now at 23-7.

Kawhi Leonard back?
Raptors All-Star Kawhi Leonard has missed the last two games with a hip injury. He is listed as questionable vs. the Blazers on Friday night.  Leonard is averaging 28.8 points and 8.3 rebounds, while shooting 42 percent from three-point range in his last nine games played.

INJURY UPDATES

The Trail Blazers have no injuries to report for Friday’s game vs. Toronto.

For the Raptors, *Jordan Loyd* (G League), *Norman Powell* (left shoulder) and *Jonas Valanciunas* (left thumb) are out. *Kawhi Leonard* (right hip) is questionable.

Kyle Lowry (back spasms) has been added to Toronto’s injury report and is listed as questionable.

QUICK LINKS
Dwight Jaynes: 
It's time for Trail Blazers to find a consistent rotation

Jamie Hudson: History in Memphis: How the city changed the trajectory of CJ McCollum's career

NBA News and Rumors: Seattle Suns has a nice ring to it 

VIDEO: Blazers can't grind it out in Memphis

VIDEO: CJ loves playing Memphis

GAME DETAILS
Where to Watch:
 NBC Sports Northwest

Where to Watch on the go: Stream the game live on the new MyTeams App

Tip-Off Time: 7:00 p.m. 

NBCS NW Coverage: Blazers Outsiders Pregame Show (6:00 p.m.), Blazers Outsiders Postgame Show (immediately after the game). 

Point Spread: Toronto -3.5

Radio: 620AM Rip City Radio

Download the brand new MyTeams app today - This is the app for everything Blazers: games, highlights, articles, podcasts and more from your NBC Sports Northwest Blazers team.

Trail Blazers need to start reconsidering the way they think about their roster

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USATI

Trail Blazers need to start reconsidering the way they think about their roster

Well, here we are.

The Portland Trail Blazers, after a blistering 10-3 start, have lost two games straight and are 5-10 over their last 15 games. The struggles have been obvious, from defense all the way on down to the bench unit disintegrating in front of our eyes. It’s left Rip City bleak, its once-rosy outlook on the team dimmed by the shade of yet another stagnant season approaching from above.

It’s not been the most vulnerable suffering on the Blazers’ roster, either. At times against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday, even Portland’s stars looked out of sorts. Jusuf Nurkic scored two points on an abysmal 1-of-15 shooting night, and Damian Lillard had 14. CJ McCollum’s 40-point effort wasn’t impactful.

The last couple of weeks have been a bloodbath. Per usual, Portland fans are ready to embrace their own inner sadness as they head into the holiday season. Sitting at Rialto Poolroom on Wednesday night with an enormous table of professional sports writers and professional Blazers fans, we watched as Portland’s first quarter lead diminished over the final 36 minutes. Eventually the conversation came back to what it always does with this team: 

Is it finally time to make a major trade in Portland? Is it time to move on from the Lillard-McCollum pairing?

General manager Neil Olshey would likely tell you that it’s not as though you can go out and find a trade tailored to your franchise. You need a willing party on the other end, a partner ready to part with valuable assets. That's true, and it's what fans often gloss over when pounding in swaps to the ESPN Trade Machine on their laptop at work.

But Portland hasn't seemed willing to make a major trade that carries any sort of risk. Sure, there have been rumors — DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Love, et al. But for all the murmurs, we’ve never seen the trigger pulled. Yes, McCollum is the most valuable trade asset they have. But more important has been how disinterested the team appears to be in shaking up a team that might have already reached its upper asymptote. Portland's front office has stuck to the philosophy around this roster, and this is the season that needs to end.

Truthfully, I've long-held two positions. First, that Olshey would not consider trading McCollum unless some kind of major failure headlines this season. Another middling year leading to a sweep would fit that, as would the Blazers missing the playoffs altogether.

Second, I've also never been confident in this roster construction. The idea that two undersized combo guards could carry a squad has always been a bet against the odds, even more so when neither are big enough to bolster themselves on defense. 

Could the team be high-scoring? Could they both grow into elite offensive players? Could that help propel them to the playoffs? Absolutely. But sinking a quarter of a billion dollars into a backcourt like Lillard and McCollum requires a level of dominance that the Blazers have not reached. 

That's even more concerning given the current state of offense in the NBA. The reputation of Lillard and McCollum is as a red-hot, 3-point shooting onslaught. The league is faster than ever this year, and scoring is off the charts. That the Blazers haven't been able to capitalize on that wave sort of speaks to the reality vs. the perception of Portland's stars.

Meanwhile, even if Rip City is one of the few places where “title or bust” isn’t crowed by casual fans, everyone is at least looking for progression. McCollum has been a star to fans in Multnomah County for four years, but there’s been nothing to show for it outside of one glorious shot by Damian Lillard in 2014. Portland has never felt like a serious second-round challenger during this era is worrying. That's without even mentioning the Western Conference Finals, a pipe dream in and of itself.

Where that leaves us is with a hard look at what this front office needs to do to push this team to the next level. The “Trade CJ” crowd has been loud, particularly since Cousins started getting floated in trade conversations during his final years in Sacramento. But that doesn’t need to be the way the Blazers go.

Instead what Portland needs to show is a willingness to make a trade of real magnitude, to step on the side of increased risk and to pursue more than smart, Al-Farouq Aminu-type deals. Everyone wants to keep a winner. Winning is fun. But winning in the same way, and therefore losing in the same way, can be grating.

This is the season of determination for Portland. Olshey’s trade of Mason Plumlee for Nurkic a couple of seasons ago was the exact type of move Blazers fans want to see. It’s not our job to suggest trades, or seek them out, or find out who is secretly available. That’s for Portland’s front office to do, that’s their job.

Whether it's something like the Nurkic trade’s impact or larger, the Blazers need to consider putting real assets on the table and shifting how they think about their roster.

Blazers Outsiders: Blow up the roster, or let the slump blow by?

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NBCSNW

Blazers Outsiders: Blow up the roster, or let the slump blow by?

The Blazers are in the midst of the team's worst stretch of the season, having dropped 10 of their last 15 games. The offense is sputtering, the defense is shaking, and players and fans alike have been left scratching their heads as they look for answers. So, how do the Blazers turn it all around? Is it time to blow up the roster and move on, or is it time to hunker down and weather the storm while this slump blows by? The Blazers Outsiders give us their thoughts in this week's Outsiders Roundtable: 

JOE SIMONS: My favorite holiday tradition is here: Rip City debating whether or not the Blazers should blow things up and start over! Oh, how I look forward to it each December.
Despite how it may feel, this the best record the Blazers have had through 27 games since 2014. More importantly, the contracts in place don’t allow the necessary flexibility to dismantle the roster and rebuild around Dame. So, shall we make a big trade? I say no. A big trade has to involve CJ, and my stance on the issue hasn’t changed: don’t trade CJ unless the offer is VERY attractive. Shipping off one of the best guards in the league because the fan base is bored will always be a lousy justification.
My approach is to survive December, enjoy the softer January schedule and see where we are at the all-star break. If this team is way out of the playoff picture, maybe something drastic gets done. If they are in the playoff mix, maybe Chief, and his lovely contract, get shipped off and the Blazers try and make a run at the second round in an all-of-a-sudden wide open West. For now, just enjoy the holidays, the occasional win, and let’s regroup on Groundhog’s Day.

CHRIS BURKHARDT: SELL. SELL. SELL. Sorry, I was just checking my stock investments. As for the Blazers, hunker down Rip City! To quote the great Dennis Green, the Blazers "are who we thought they were." That's not to say they are awful, but it is to say they aren't great. Sure, they are playing their worst basketball of the season, but maybe that's a good thing. It's not how you start, it's how you finish, and there is a lot of season left. Nice to get the stinkers out of the way, right?  At this point last year we were asking many of the same questions as the Blazers sat at 15-13, the exact same record they have right now. How did they finish? Well, they put together a 13-game win streak to get back in the playoff hunt and finished the season with 49 wins. Sure, they were swept in the playoffs, but the point remains valid - There is plenty of time to turn this baby around. That being said, while I'm not in favor of a blown up, I am in favor of a shakeup. I have said it many times and I will say it again, you know the Trail Blazers have turned the corner as a roster when Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu are key bench contributors, not starters. If Neil Olshey can do something to improve the small forward and power forward positions while keeping Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic in town, then watch out. This 5-10 stretch will be nothing but a little blip on the radar of the past... BUT that is a very big "if." 

DAN MARANG: Barring a major shake-up I’ve always felt this team runs up against the ceiling of pretty damn good but not great team. Damian Lillard continues to amaze and is charting his path to the greatest Trail Blazer of all time and I can’t help but wonder what he could do with a truly great supporting cast. With that in mind I’ve been a proponent of breaking up this iteration of the Blazers since LaMarcus Aldridge left for the San Antonio Spurs. It’s not that I think that CJ McCollum is bad, or that Jusuf Nurkic isn’t a very good big, it’s just that the pieces don’t fit together optimally. Portland needs to get bigger, longer and more athletic. Even teams like the Memphis Grizzlies who have bucked the trend of pace and space have added guys to their roster in between Mike Conley and Marc Gasol that are more “new age” than “grit & grind.” Jaren Jackson Jr. looks like he was built in a lab designed for today’s NBA. If you look at Portland’s roster who’s the guy that bends defenses outside of Damian Lillard? Who has the gravity and/or the constant mismatch that teams have to account for on every possession? Outside of Lillard and occasionally McCollum, that guy just doesn’t exist. I really like Nurkic as a 3rd option but that lack of a forward, a guy who’s 6’7"-to-6’10" who can cover multiple guys on the defensive end and be more than a singular offensive threat- whether it be catch and shoot, mid-post, driver, etc. there just isn’t a guy in that range who can tick all of the boxes.

These are the options for Portland going forward- hope & pray that Zach Collins hits the hyper-speed drive on his development and he actualizes what we’ve been told- that he’s a young Kevin McHale, LaMarcus Aldridge or Rasheed Wallace. I can’t get to that level of belief, but there are certainly folks who still hold tight to that.

Option two, a perfect scenario falls in Portland’s lap on the trade market- a true 2-way forward becomes available and they want exactly what Portland has to offer without sacrificing the farm to get it. Highly unlikely, but weirder things have happened in the NBA.

Option three, Portland opts to move one of their more valuable parts ie; McCollum, Nurkic and/or Collins. Again, highly unlikely but if things spiral out of control, teams will come calling.

Option four, blow it up. Full nuclear. With the team in a  not so solid position with ownership, I see this a zero-percent chance of happening.

This is where the frustration stems from, a lot of these options just aren’t all that appealing. But the clock is ticking on Portland’s season and Lillard’s prime. Something will have to give.

ALEX HAIGH: You’ve been in this for two decades. You’ve had some good times, but mostly rough patches paired with a few bright spots which for some reason, are the only memories you reference when rationalizing why you continue to stay in this thing despite the constant disappointment, anxiety and stress. You keep blaming their failures on the people that sort of raised them, and maybe that’s fair, but it’s not the only reason it isn’t working. You’ve got a long history of making excuses for them, telling yourself that maybe if you were just more supportive, things would turn around. But they don’t. And deep down, you’re a little scared they never will. I’m not describing your loveless marriage, I’m describing your relationship with the Portland Trail Blazers. But what do you do when you’ve realized your fate as a Trail Blazers fan? Do you run? Do you stay, knowing things would always be a little bit worse? (This is sort of a quote from Love Actually, and possibly, your parents’ loveless marriage.) My answer is you just freakin’ deal with it, you bozo. What are you going to do, go be a fan of a different basketball team? You’re going to be a bandwagon fan, really? Actually no, go ahead and root for the Knicks, a bad team, just to prove you’re not one of “those” people. Something weird will happen and in two years they’re going to be amazing and then everyone is going to call you a fraud because the only gear you own is a Nike iPhone X phone case with the Knicks logo on it. Then, the guilt and shame will force you to get on eBay and buy some old Knicks windbreaker that has a ketchup stain on it just so you can keep up the façade? That sounds exhausting. And you know what’s not exhausting? Keeping the same level of exhaustion you’re already at as a Trail Blazers fan. Just stick with the team, something good is bound to happen. What was this blog supposed to be about?

Portland Trail Blazers elevate play sets with latest Thumb twist

Portland Trail Blazers elevate play sets with latest Thumb twist

We've talked about Terry Stotts and his “Thumb” set before as it’s perhaps the most recognizable play set from the Portland Trail Blazers’ offense. Over the years the Blazers have run sets called “Punch,” “Fist," and “Up” out of Thumb.

In a tribute to its versatility, I noticed yet another twist to Thumb that Stotts ran against an overeager opponent just a couple of weeks ago.

In the Blazers’ game against the Orlando Magic on Nov. 28, Portland ran an elevator doors play out of Thumb that I thought was a nice adaptation by Stotts. If you’re not familiar with elevator doors, it’s pretty simple to understand. It refers to two players standing side-by-side some distance apart, and after a shooter runs between them, they close shoulder-to-shoulder. The screens look like a set of elevator doors closing, thus the nickname.

Against Orlando, Portland ran this play twice in a span of four minutes. Stotts and his coaching staff noticed that the Magic — and guard Terrence Ross in particular — were overplaying their flare screens to the edges out of Thumb. As a counter, Stotts had Nik Stauskas run up the middle and through the elevator doors screens as a means to punish Ross. Since the Magic defender was already shaded to the outside, it made it more difficult for him to respond to a screen in the middle of the floor.

This is exactly what we've been wanting to see moving into this segment of the season. Part of Portland’s recent struggles have been because teams have been able to gather film on them and adapt to their new rotations. How Stotts counters those counters will be interesting to watch all season, and this elevator doors play is a perfect example of that very thing. 

Watch the full video breakdown above.

Rip City Rewind: Everything you might have missed as the Blazers fell to the Grizzlies

Rip City Rewind: Everything you might have missed as the Blazers fell to the Grizzlies

The Portland Trail Blazers just couldn’t find consistency on the second night of a back-to-back, falling to the Grizzlies at the Grindhouse in Memphis.

Let’s get you caught up with everything you might have missed from the Blazers 92-83 loss to the Grizzlies.

After getting off to quick start and a big lead, the Blazers fourth quarter problems once again came back to the haunt them. Dwight Jaynes shared some thoughts and ideas on what Portland could do to take a step forward in the right direction: It's time for Trail Blazers to find a consistent rotation

While Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic had a mostly forgettable night, CJ McCollum came up huge for the Big 3. He scored 40 points while adding five rebounds and two assists for the Blazers. Jamie Hudson recapped McCollum’s 40-point game in the Blazers loss: History in Memphis: How the city changed the trajectory of CJ McCollum's career

Jamie Hudson, Dwight Jaynes and Peter Socotch shared some quick thoughts from the scene immediately after the game: Rapid Reaction: Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers loss to the Memphis Grizzlies

Having now lost 10 of their last 15 games, the Blazers will look to break out of their slump against the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors. Peter Socotch noted Portland’s lack of success through two physical, but close games: For the Portland Trail Blazers, it's "nut check" time

For the Portland Trail Blazers, it's "nut check" time

For the Portland Trail Blazers, it's "nut check" time

The Trail Blazers arrived in Memphis having lost 9 of their last 14 games and looked to right the ship vs. a Grizzlies team that also jumped out to a fast start to the season, only to stumble in six of their past nine. 

Unfortunately for Portland, CJ McCollum was the only Blazer hot enough to combat the chilly night in Memphis, Tennessee. 

McCollum tied a season high with 40 points on 16 of 27 shooting, which accounted for half of the Blazers made field goals in the Blazers 92-83 loss to the Grizzlies. Take CJ out of the equation, the Blazers shot just 26.7% from the field, including a 4-18 night from Damian Lillard and 1 for 15 night from Jusuf Nurkic. Portland has now lost 10 of their last 15 and are desperately searching for answers. 

“We can’t do that in the Western Conference,” CJ McCollum said. “Every game is critical… We’ve got to turn the tide immediately.”

The Trail Blazers jumped out to a 12-5 start and took the Western Conference by storm, claiming the West’s top spot briefly. They have since fallen back to earth. Hard. 

The once over-achieving second unit has almost completely fallen off the map. The re-insertion of Maurice Harkless into the rotation has not gone well. Teams are trapping Dame and CJ forcing them to live or die by their shot. 

“On the whole, we haven’t played well,” head coach Terry Stotts said of the Blazers play since their 6-game road trip that extended both coasts heading into Thanksgiving. “Certainly not to the level that we were playing the first thirteen games of the season.”

The Blazers lost two physical, but close, games on this brief two-game road trip.

Last season, after an up and down first half to the 2017-18 season, the Blazers rode a 13-game win streak out of the All-Star break and clinched third place in the Western Conference. Their season came to an abrupt end with a first round sweep at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans leaving a lot of “what ifs” on the table.

“It seems like we go through this once a year where we go on a streak and it’s terrible and it’s the worst thing in the world and we overcome it,” McCollum said. “Then, the year ends and you look back on it and you’re like, ‘man, if we could have just got those games.’ And it’s like we’re saying it again. We could have got those games.”

The Blazers haven’t played poorly in their slump. Head coach Terry Stotts liked his team’s performance in his team’s games vs. the Clippers and Nuggets, which both ended up in the “L” column.

Now, 10 of the Blazers next 12 games are against playoff contending teams, starting with the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors, Friday night. 

“It’s nut check time, man,” CJ McCollum said. “Coaches can only do so much… it’s on us.”