The games that were intended to be barometers of where the Trail Blazers stand in the Western Conference seemed to do just that.
Portland began the week in sixth place in the Western Conference with a 1-6 record against the teams above it in the standings. After blowout losses to the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz, they are now 1-8 against those teams.
Damian Lillard knows all about that. And he is not running away from it.
“When we play against the top-level teams, we don’t play well,” Lillard said. “We get put away.
“At Phoenix, we got put away. Tonight, we got put away. At Denver, we got put away. Milwaukee at home, we got put away. Clippers, got put away. I mean, you know, it’s not like a small sample size.
“It’s what happens when we play against the better teams, where you have to be consistent. You’ve got to be able to sustain a certain level of focus.
“You’ve got to be sharp, you know. Physically, mentally, you’ve got to be present, you got to be ready to go, because these teams are top-level teams and those are the teams that we’re trying to be next to, we’re trying to be in that same bubble of teams.”
Lillard still believes his squad is good enough to compete with those “better” teams.
“We just haven’t won those games,” he said. “We just haven’t shown that we’re that level of team. You know we’re capable of it. I think, you know, y’all know that I’m the biggest believer, but it comes a time where, when you get on the floor, you got to do it. … and we just haven’t shown it when those matchups have come. And that’s where the growth and that’s where we have to make some strides in that area.”
But time is running out.
“You’ve got to look in the mirror,” Lillard said. “I’m not saying anything that’s not obvious.“And I think for us, the first step is acknowledging the fact that it’s just true. And, you know, just being sharp and being locked in and just taking that to heart, to have some pride in those games.
“The fact that we don’t play well against the top-level teams, we’ve got to take that to heart and we’ve got to have something to prove.”
Thursday night’s 122-103 defeat at Utah was the opposite of the Clipper loss – instead of struggling at the beginning of the game, the Trail Blazers waited until the third quarter to get pummeled.
The Jazz, which lost an overtime game at Phoenix Wednesday night while the Trail Blazers were sitting in Salt Lake City waiting for them, made some defensive adjustments at halftime and shut down the Portland offense in the second half.
CJ McCollum and Lillard each made just 3 of 9 shots in the second half and each totaled 8-21 for the game.
And that’s the way things went. Rather than an improvement, the games reflected a continuation of a season-long problem.
I hope there are enough mirrors for everyone in the Portland locker room.
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