The Portland Trail Blazers are losing their grip on a playoff spot, and Damian Lillard is fed up. On Saturday, after their 135-90 loss to the Golden State Warriors, Lillard said that they need to play with heart and take responsibility for what they are doing wrong, via ESPN's Chris Haynes:
"Man, it's OK to turn the ball over, it's OK to make mistakes, but we have to play with some damn heart and compete out there," he said of his teammates.
"This isn't about what the coaches are doing, this is on us," Lillard said to ESPN in retelling what he stated to his teammates. "We have to take responsibility for what's going on. This s--- is ridiculous. We've got the talent; we've just got to put it together consistently."
In the locker room after Saturday night's loss, Lillard's facial expressions spoke volumes, and he was in a rage with his team's effort. But he made it clear that his confidence hasn't wavered one bit.
"I'm a soldier," he said. "I feel like if I die, I can come back to life and win."
Lillard wasn't the only upset one -- C.J. McCollum said this "unacceptable" effort was the Blazers' low point, and Allen Crabbe said it was "embarrassing." Falling to a super-team -- even in a blowout -- shouldn't be seen as reason for panic, but it was Portland's sixth loss in seven games, and its defensive issues, a problem all season, aren't getting any better.
Twenty-nine games into the season, the Blazers are allowing 110.4 points per 100 possessions, the worst mark in the entire league. Their defensive performances in their recent slide have been uniformly terrible, with the exception of a narrow loss to the short-handed Memphis Grizzlies and a commanding victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder:
|Game||Score||W/L||Defensive rating (per Basketball-Reference)|
|Dec. 7, @ Bucks||115-107||L||119.1|
|Dec. 8, @ Grizzlies||88-86||L||92.5|
|Dec. 10, @ Pacers||118-11||L||123.6|
|Dec. 12, @ Clippers||121-120||L||125.5|
|Dec. 13, vs. Thunder||114-95||W||98.2|
|Dec. 15, @ Nuggets||123-120||L||128.2|
|Dec. 17, @ Warriors||135-90||L||135.2|
At 13-16, Portland is now one of the most disappointing stories in the league, and it's only hanging onto the eighth spot in the West because there have been an unusual amount of underperforming teams. The 11-16 Denver Nuggets are one game back, and the 10-16 Sacramento Kings and 11-19 Los Angeles Lakers still have playoff hopes, too.
The Blazers, following a 44-win season, a trip to the second round of the playoffs and a summer of spending, did not expect to be mentioned in the same breath as those teams. The reality, though, is that until the defense improves, they're not really going anywhere. With the news that center Festus Ezeli is out for the season, a trade might be the only way to get the help that they need to try to duplicate the magical January and February run that propelled them to the postseason a year ago.