It’s hard to imagine at this point, but there was a time that the Portland Trail Blazers were above the .500 mark, riding high, and looking like playoff contenders.
Now they are five games under .500 (29-34), third in the Northwest, and four games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the No. 8 and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 19 games to go.
And while Portland could regroup and make a run for the playoffs, the recent play of the Lakers as well as a somewhat young and unconditioned Blazer team has many fans thinking that they may have to wait another reach to reach the playoffs once again.
For some people who have not kept up with the Blazers as of late, their current standing may surprise some. At one point (as mentioned previously), Portland was one of the hottest teams in the league. With LaMarcus Aldridge leading the way and Damian Lillard contending for a Rookie of the Year award (of which he still is), the Blazers were flying high and ready to make the playoffs once again.
After seeing their record to 25-23 after a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on February 4, Portland lost to Dallas. And then Houston. Then Orlando. Then Miami. Then New Orleans. Then Phoenix. Then Los Angeles.In the midst of recouping after a six-game losing streak that ended with an impressive victory over Indiana on January 23rd, the Blazers essentially self-destructed. They lost seven straight games and have now lost 11 of their past 15. That is not exactly the way you get yourselves into the playoffs.
But as bad as their last month and change have been, Portland’s play has not been awful. In fact, besides maybe six games that they had no chance at the end, the Blazers lost most of their games by a very slim margin, evidencing the fact that their play has not been poor.
Call it unlucky, but that’s exactly what Portland has been lately. They’ve played close games but either couldn’t find themselves all the way back or hold onto a slim lead.
It’s been very frustrating.
One of the most frustrating players to watch during Portland’s collapse has been Nicolas Batum. Once an extremely dangerous player on the court, Batum will now show up for some games and disappear for others. In fact, during Portland’s 4-11 stretch, Batum has scored 9, 24,19, 5, 3, 15, 22, 18, 10, 12, 20, 10, 2, 11, and 4 points.
And while some of those numbers are great, they come on an inconsistent basis and are followed by 5,3,2, and four point performances that are absolutely dreadful to watch.
If the Blazers want to have any shot of getting back on track and possibly making a late run for a playoff spot, they need Batum to play much more consistent basketball and find his rhythm.
Perhaps the brightest note for the Blazers during their regression has been Lillard. Undoubtedly the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award, Lillard has continued to light up the competition despite getting to the point in the year where rookies have a tendency to start tiring.
But not everybody is Damian Lillard.
His most impressive performance came against San Antonio, when he accumulated 35 points, 9 assists, three rebounds, and two steals while helping to lead the Blazers to one of their four victories during their current 15-game stretch.
What Needs to Happen
The Blazers now head down the stretch run of their schedule when they face off against the New York Knicks on Thursday. This game will be the first of their final 19 games, a stretch that may very well determine what this team is really made of.
And with only one game left on the schedule against the Lakers, the Blazers must do everything they can to show up every day and fight for that final playoff spot and remember that they have not really been out of any game during their past 15 contests.
If they collect themselves, rally around the idea of still being able to make the playoffs, and find where Nicolas Batum goes on his days where he essentially doesn’t show up, Portland could still find a way into the playoffs–though this is starting to look more dreary every day.