PORTLAND, Ore. — It was all roses in Rip City a week ago. The Portland Trail Blazers were rolling, winning eight of their previous nine games and claiming sole possession of fourth place in the competitive Western Conference while amassing an impressive 18-10 record. All while guard C.J. McCollum and center Jusuf Nurkic continued to recover from injuries that have kept them sidelined since mid-January.
But a week later and the situation for Portland is far less rosy. The team has lost three straight games, one in blowout fashion, and concerns about how long the Blazers can survive without two of their three best players have resurfaced. The team has undoubtedly come back to Earth after a two-week stretch of flying high. But is the losing a streak a sign of struggles to come? Or is it just a product of a slump during a long, and this year time-crunched, NBA season? That was the focus of discussion on the latest episode of KGW’s 3-on-3 Blazers podcast, hosted by KGW sports anchor Orlando Sanchez, alongside KGW's Jared Cowley, Nate Hanson and Max Barr. (Story continues below)
LISTEN: KGW's 3-on-3 Blazers Podcast
After torching teams offensively the previous two weeks, the Blazers have gone ice cold over the last three games. Portland shot nearly 42% from the 3-point line when reeling off eight wins in nine games. But over the last three games, the team’s 3-point shooting percentage has dropped to 33%. Nearly every perimeter shooter the Blazers rely on, including All-Star point guard Damian Lillard, emerging scorer Gary Trent Jr., starter Robert Covington, and bench shooters Carmelo Anthony, Anfernee Simons and Rodney Hood, have seen their 3-point shooting percentages decline during the losing streak. The Blazers typically rank in the top 10, if not the top 5 of the NBA in offensive efficiency. During the three-game losing streak, the team’s offensive rating, calculated by points per 100 possessions, ranks 20th in the NBA.
So, for fans looking to remain optimistic, this losing streak could simply be chalked up to a shooting slump. The Blazers shoot the second-most 3-point shots per game in the NBA. When they go in, the team has a great chance at winning. When they don’t, Portland likely doesn’t have the talent right now, with the injuries to McCollum and Nurkic, to overcome. The Blazers have been an elite offensive team since Lillard took over as the team’s leader and are likely to shoot themselves out of a slump that all NBA teams go through during the season. When that happens, Portland will start tallying up more wins.
But fans wanting to look at the losing streak with a glass half-empty mindset can find areas of concern. The team’s defense, which played at a league-average level during the stretch when they won eight of nine games, has returned to its bottom of the league form. During the three-game losing streak, the Blazers rank last in defensive efficiency, giving up an average of 123 points per 100 possessions.
Fans who are worried can also point to the team’s weak schedule during its hot stretch, during which the Blazers only played one team that had a record better than .500. Portland is just 5-8 against teams with a .500 or better record so far this season. Plus, the schedule in the second half of the season is going to be far tougher.
The reasons for optimism and concern are all valid right now. There are a lot of question marks about this team because of the injuries. What we do know is most fans a month ago, when McCollum and Nurkic went down with their injuries, would have been satisfied with an 18-13 record through 31 games. The ride to this point hasn’t been smooth, but the Blazers are positioned to accomplish the goals optimistic fans have their sights set on, but also stumble because of the concerns other fans are voicing.
CHIME IN! If you have a question about the Blazers that you'd like us to answer on the next podcast, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet your questions to Orlando Sanchez, Nate Hanson, Jared Cowley or Max Barr.
LISTEN: KGW's 3-on-3 Blazers Podcast