Usually, when the Trail Blazers lose to an undermanned opponent, the problem is the defense. But Sunday night in Charlotte, after a 109-101 loss to the Hornets that was nowhere nearly as close as that score indicates, it was hard to decide the culprit.
Was it the offense, that went 6-26 from three-point distance over the first three quarters and on this night was incapable of bailing out the poor defense?
Or was it the defense, which allowed the shorthanded Hornets to shoot 47 percent from the field, including hitting 18 of 43 from behind the arc?
Take your pick.
The Trail Blazers will try to take comfort from the fact that they were without Damian Lillard – sitting out his second straight game with a hamstring injury. But Charlotte has more serious problems with absent players. The Hornets were missing Gordon Hayward, LaMelo Ball and Malik Monk, at least two of their three best players. The first quarter was a total mismatch, which ended with the Hornets leading 44-24.
In that quarter the Hornets made 17 of 22 from the field, going 7-10 from three-point range.
How does this happen to a superior team needing every win it can get down the stretch of the season, a team that will soon be facing a very tough schedule?
“The first quarter was a little bit of everything,” Terry Stotts said. “They had 13 early, at the first time out, and I think they were all in transition, so they got off to a good start in transition.
“Obviously, they shot the three really well but we didn't. We talked about getting off to good starts defensively in the first quarter and obviously we didn't do that. But their transitions kind of set the tone for the quarter and then their three-point shooting set the tone the rest of the way.”
The Trail Blazers also started the game differently than they had any game this season. With Lillard out, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who signed his second 10-day contract with the team earlier in the day, got the starting nod at forward.
Hollis-Jefferson has started just 27 games over the last two seasons and took over a spot from Derrick Jones Jr., who didn’t play at all in the game, although healthy.
Hollis-Jefferson played 21:33 but still managed to go minus-18 in the box score and make just one of his five shots en route to seven points, along with five rebounds.
Stotts seemed happy, though, with his performance.
“I thought he played well,” Stotts said. “He did what we wanted him to do.”
I doubt there were many Blazers he could say that about in this game. Given the opposition, it was a disaster. With the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets coming up on the schedule, Portland needs all the wins it can capture.
This one looked to be an obvious candidate – but not after that first quarter