It can be difficult to pinpoint the epicenter of the Portland Trail Blazers recent struggles.
Most will blame it on uninspired defense. The Trail Blazers rank 29th out of 30 teams in the NBA with a defensive rating at 117.8, excluding garbage time.
Poor three-point shooting has also felt like a dagger to the heart.
Portland is fifth in the NBA with a 38.2% three-point percentage and has the second highest made three-pointers per game at 16.2. But over the last two games, both losses, Portland has averaged just 28.85% from behind the arc and made 24 out of 84 possible attempts.
After giving up 47 points in the first quarter on Tuesday vs. the Clippers, Portland surrendered another 40 points in the third quarter on Thursday in its 122-103 loss to the Utah Jazz. They were leading at halftime.
If you ask Damian Lillard, the Blazers simply lack consistency, and the inability to sustain leads has plagued them in recent games.
“I don’t think it’s one thing,” Lillard said on Thursday following the loss to Utah. “I don’t think I could look at tonight and say it was the same thing as last game. Like tonight I thought in the first half we controlled keeping them out of transition. You know, they weren’t killing us from the three-point line, and we know that they the only team in the league that shoots more threes from than us. We knew coming in that if we limit that, keep them out of transition, they can play more at half court, we going to have a pretty good chance.
"I think that’s why we went into the half with the lead, and we come out in the second half and we just weren’t able to sustain that focus in doing the job that we did in the first half...
All things considered, the Trail Blazers are now 51 games into the 2021 NBA season and have just 21 games to discover who they really are as a team. Forming an identity isn’t something that happens on the fly, especially when you have new additions like Norman Powell and previously injured players like Jusuf Nurkic entering the lineup.
“We got to give him time,” Lillard said of Nurkic. “We can’t expect him to come back from missing so much time and just snap right into it. But I think not just him, bringing Norm in, CJ coming back after missing so much time, it takes time for everything to start to click when you’ve got so many moving parts, guys that weren’t around and were on the floor. You’ve got to try to make it work. We just taking some time figuring that out as far as being cohesive and on the same page as everything.
But how much time will it take? Portland, now 30-21, remains in sixth place in the Western Conference Standings, 1 ½ games behind the fifth-place Los Angeles Lakers.
Lillard knows that for Portland to reach its full potential and thrive among the Western Conference’s best, it must be mentally tough and connect the dots. The Blazers must find their recipe for success, and soon, they will have to find a way to beat the teams above them in the standings too.
“We do not play well against the top-level teams,” Lillard said. “We get put away.”