After losing to the Memphis Grizzlies 113-120 last night, the Portland Trail Blazers have fallen into the 7th spot and play-in contention - a place they didn't predict or wanted to be in at this part of the season. This was Portland's fifth straight loss and the 9th in their last 11 games, as the team has struggled to cope with the injury of their superstar Damian Lillard.
Lillard returned recently from his right hamstring injury and scored 23 points in last night's loss, but it is apparent that Dame hasn't been playing on his superstar level recently. That could mainly be attributed to the fact he has been playing injured, but that doesn't stop him from criticizing himself.
"I'm not playing well enough. I'm on the floor because that gives our team the best chance to win, and I've got to be better. ... If you're not frustrated going through loss after loss in games you feel like you should win, then that's an issue. I'm sure all of us are frustrated right now."
Damian Lillard, via Sean Highkin
The Blazers started the season hot and looked primed for a deep playoff run, with Lillard playing on an MVP level most of the season. He carried his team through numerous injuries, but now that almost their whole squad is healthy, they have hit a wall and started to struggle in the most crucial part of the season. The Blazers are still dangerous on the offensive end, even though they don't have a real identity, mostly focusing on iso plays from Dame and CJ.
But defense is where their problems are being exposed, sitting near the bottom of the whole league when it comes to defensive numbers. The Blazers are 29th in the league in DRtg, allowing the fourth-highest opponent effective field goal percentage (56.1%). They are 10th in the NBA in opponent 3p% (37.1%), with most of their defensive trouble arising from defending the perimeter -- and this has been one of their most significant issue for years.
Now they are in the hunt for the Mavericks and the Lakers for a secure playoffs spot. Still, on the other side, the Grizzlies, Warriors, and Spurs are right on their heels to pull them deeper into the play-in situation that could prove to be the end of the Blazers season if they don't pick it up soon. Hopefully, Lillard & Co can stay healthy and focus on giving their best and securing a playoff appearance.