Trail Blazers Face First Gut Check


VIDEO: Blazers fall short to Kings in Sacramento

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Trail Blazers scored 13 points in the third quarter Tuesday at Sleep Train Arena against a sieve defense, putting themselves in such a bad place that even a 46-point fourth period couldn’t save the night. This is what adversity looks like.

Robin Lopez sat at his locker after Portland lost to the Kings, contenders for the worst record in the West and not far from owning the basement for the entire league, and straight out said he and some teammates have not been playing as hard as before. This is what adversity sounds like.

Nicolas Batum, in addition to the pain of playing with a fractured left middle finger that requires a splint and heavy tape job, the only benefit being that it’s on his non-shooting hand, couldn’t help but admit that skeptics of the Trail Blazers’ kick-the-door-down start were pointing at the last six games and smugly nodding. This is what adversity feels like.

It has, out of nowhere, become gut-check time, one of the success stories of the first three months of the season suddenly trying to regain its footing and mostly looking inward at the problem: themselves.

“I think we’ve been shown a lot of our flaws,” Lopez said. “We need to be more consistent on the defensive end. When things aren’t going right offensively, that (defense) has to be our strength. We can’t turn tail on that end.”

Their flaws?

“I think our consistency,” Lopez said. “Not to say we weren’t going hard at that end. Obviously we were getting after it. Maybe just speaking for myself, I can’t help but feel there were a few times where maybe I let off the gas pedal and maybe some of the other guys did too.”

Defeats happen, but the Trail Blazers just lost at home Saturday to the 76ers, with a day off before and Philadelphia on the last stop of a five-game trip, and Tuesday at Sleep Train, with two days to prepare. That would be concerning enough, except Portland has instantly flipped from 24-5 and wins in seven of eight, including over the Clippers and Rockets, into dropping four of six as the defense takes on water.

Portland is suddenly at a mini-crossroads, with a home game tonight against Orlando, another lottery-bound opponent (10 p.m. ET, League Pass), much more meaningful than a team setting itself up for April would prefer to sweat in January. But welcome to it. Blazers-Magic is undeniably important.

“Yeah, we know people doubt about us,” said Batum, who is playing through the finger injury. “People may talk about us right now and say, like you said, ‘Told you so. What happened right now?’ But this is a long season. We’ve played 35 games. OK, we’ve missed like five games, the last five games. We still have 40-something games remaining. We know what we are. We know we have a good team, so we’ll get back to it and show them that the Trail Blazers are for real.”

This should be the perfect time for a recovery. The Magic, Celtics and Cavaliers are the next three opponents, all in Portland and spread out over eight days. C.J. McCollum, the No. 10 pick in the 2013 draft, has yet to play while recovering from a fractured left foot, but at least he is healthy now and available in what could become additional depth in the backcourt behind Wesley Matthews at shooting guard and Damian Lillard at the point. In a season when the Trail Blazers have made so much go right, they now get a lot of things breaking right when they need it most.

Waste this fortunate moment of the schedule, though, struggle with Orlando, Boston and Cleveland as the Blazers did with Philadelphia and Sacramento, and then they’ll see what mounting skepticism really is. That will be what real adversity tastes like.

11 Comments

  1. Brandon says:

    So what about OKC losing to utah AND brooklyn? Or maybe MIAMI also losing to SACRAMENTO? AND NEW YORK? lol why is there no talk about them not being good? Oh because they make the NBA big money right well guess what blazers beat OKC TWICE this year already and Miami has lost to like what 6 teams with records under .500 considering they are in the eastern conference and the east only has like 3 teams above .500? So does the loss to new york make it gut check time for Miami or the loss to Brooklyn make it gutchecktime for OKC? of course not just accept the fact that the blazers are for real almost half way through the season and still in single digits in the loss column while playing in an amazing western conference.

  2. watcher says:

    Credit to the Kings. Laid eggs on their court v the east before showing up bigtime here. Gay had a hot hand before fouling out, Isiaih standing up in the clutch and D-Cuz an all-star for sure. Held off the Lillard storm and gave the fans a W.
    Fantastic game

  3. plain wrap fan says:

    You have got to remember the improvement that Portland has shown from a year ago. They simply do not have the experience as a team to be on of THE teams in the NBA. They go their record from teams looking at them as just someone else on the schedule. Now teams are getting amped up to play them and they have that pressure of being at the top of the standings on them.

    NBA teams don’t go from bad to best in one year. Now that Portland sees that they have the talent, depth, and team chemistry to win they now need mental toughness. We won’t really see just how far they have to go in that category until the post season. They have shown a lot of guts at the end of some games that were exciting, but in my book they have had far too many exciting games. They get up by 13 or so and then loose their lead, they have close games against teams that they should beat.

    They need to show they can put teams away that should be put away and that they can bring their top game to the third quarter more in order to mentally beat teams.

  4. dustydreamnz says:

    Phoenix Suns are the biggest surprise for mine, I had them 15th in the West, they’re 7th and not far from 4th in a strong Western Conference. They are also a young team and have plenty of draft picks.

    • gggggg says:

      Agree suns are clearly the suprise team, everyone thought they would be a 20 win team.

      But with Portland, I didnt expect them to be this good, but I did expect them to be a playoff team.

  5. Kristofer Logan says:

    Biggest surprise of the NBA thus far?…ummmm besides the Portland Trailblazers. They will be a playoff team no doubt, but they’ve established themselves as an elite team and a contender, so they must adjust accordingly and expect a target on their backs. They’re going to get nothing but the best from their competition and have to keep finding ways to manufacture wins…and it all starts with effort and ends with effort. Prove everyone wrong rip city! We’re pullin for ya!

  6. OKC2014 says:

    Now that OKC is hurting, this is Portland’s chance. Don’t blow it because once Westbrook comes back, and he will come back with a vengeance (after seeing his team lose to Utah), it’s all over! Go Thunder!

  7. Harold Mangum says:

    Adversity isn’t the skeptic bias of the NBA has shown. Adversity comes from overcoming bad games due to injury or player being consistent in playing. In fact your bias does very little to the performance of a team.

    Of course you only look at wins and losses, look at who the Kings has played lately, they are still playing with adversity, but are looking much better, I bet your skeptic of them being in the a bad team doesn’t phase them that much, other then taking your critique like a grain of salt.

    The critique of letting Miami beat us with James in street Clothes is bias in it self, You know very well that if Miami is playing with either Wade or James they can beat almost everybody, including your darling OKC and your GREAT NYC teams.

  8. dustydreamnz says:

    Looking forward to seeing what C.J McCollum has to offer. I still can’t believe they lost to the Kings who have been orrible lately though I agree with Robin Lopez, they can play harder. Good honesty.

    • aa says:

      Say what you want about the kings, but they do compete every night, they have lost alot of close games this year, and they do have some good players.