PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – While Damian Lillard doesn’t believe that what’s troubling the Trail Blazers is irreparable, the reality is that time is running out for Portland to snap out of its slump.
Portland has lost five straight games and nine of the last 11 to fall to seventh in the Western Conference standings, just a half-game up on Memphis. The Grizzlies just beat the Blazers in back-to-back games.
The Trail Blazers (32-28) have looked out of sorts. They’ve fallen by two points or fewer in four of their last six losses – games the Blazers might have won in the past in “Lillard Time,” when their All-Star point guard comes up with those deep 3-pointers he’s known for. But Lillard‘s shots lately have been uncharacteristically off. He air-balled a late-game 3-point attempt on Sunday against the Grizzlies.
“I’m on the floor,” Lillard said afterward. “That’s the best way for me to put it. I’m on the floor because I feel like that’s what gives our team the best chance to win. And I’m doing all the things to allow myself to be on the floor. So, I’ve just got to be better, man.”
Blazers coach Terry Stotts admits there’s frustration as the losses mount with just 12 games left.
“I think as a team we’re very together. We’re committed to winning. And we’ve come up short in some close games – which can be a test, certainly. It can be a test,” Stotts said. “But I don’t think we’re caving under that. I think we come out and compete.”
In April, he’s averaging 22.1 points and 6.1 assists, well off his March averages of 29.8 points and 7.4 assists.
“I think he’s competing,” Stotts said about Lillard. “He’s missing some shots that he normally makes, but I think he’s competing.” The Blazers were hurt by the extended absences of both CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic because of injuries, but now both starters are back. Portland also added small forward Normal Powell.
Lillard said the issue wasn’t cohesion, despite all the moving parts. He said he understands that losing is hard, but he tries to preach patience to his teammates.
“You never really know when it’s going to click or when you’re going to come out of it or turn a corner. So you’ve got to make sure you keep your mind all right, and you’ve got to make sure that you’re strong enough in your heart and in your mind to deal with whatever comes with those hard times,” he said. “I think that’s been my message: We’ve got to stay with it.”
Lillard knows that it will be a fight to the finish line just to make the playoffs. The Blazers are at Indiana on Tuesday night before facing the Grizzlies again in Memphis on Wednesday.
“Bottom line, we just have to keep doing our work and move forward and let the chips fall. I say that understanding we have to do a lot of things better, and I have to be a lot better than I have been if we are going to do that,” Lillard said. “But it’s real adversity, I will tell you that. It’s real adversity.”
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