With the walls crashing in on the Trail Blazers' once-promising season, Portland reportedly called a players-only meeting on Wednesday amid a season-high four-game losing streak.
After falling 103-90 to the Spurs, All-Star point guard Damian Lillard and several of the team's veterans organized an airing of grievances to try to figure out where Portland has gone wrong of late. On Jan. 2, the Blazers led the Western Conference with a 26-7 record. But since then, the Blazers (42-23) have gone just 16-16, falling to No. 5 in the West and clinging to a 1½-game lead over the charging Warriors.
Wednesday's poor showing, which dropped Portland to 0-4 on a five-game road trip, apparently was the tipping point. The Blazers shot just 38.6 percent from the field, including 4-of-21 from three-point range (19 percent). They also had almost as many turnovers (13) as assists (12). In the three previous games against San Antonio this season, Portland won the first two and dropped the third by just two points. But the fourth and final meeting wasn't nearly as competitive.
“I just felt like it was something that needed to be said,” Lillard told reporters after the game, according to CSNNW.com. “A some point, it’s up to the players.”
The meeting was reportedly civil and players aren't panicking quite yet, but their cause for concern is justified. On Jan. 2, the Blazers had the best offense in the NBA, averaging 110.1 points per 100 possessions. Since then, that number has fallen to 106.6. And over their last four losses, Portland is averaging just 102.1, sixth worst during that stretch. The Blazers have relied on their offense all season to compensate for a below-average defense.
"I would say it's the most adversity we've had to go against as a team," Lillard told Blazers.com. "We lose in L.A., Mo [Williams] being out tonight, four losses in a row for the first time, it's a really tough stretch. I think it's the type of year that we turn this into [that matters]. With us being 42-23, I think we've kind of given ourselves some room for error. (We've given ourselves) some room for times like this where we lose four games in a row unexpectedly. So it's time for us to turn it around.
"We have to stick with it. As players, we can be the ones that are overly concerned about losing the game. We played against really good teams. Our rhythm has been kind of off, so that makes everything harder. Playing against good teams, closing in on the Playoffs, it's the end of the season. Teams are fighting for their playoff lives. We're getting everybody's best shot, and we're in a tough stretch. That makes everything harder."
Adding to the Blazers' woes is a banged-up LaMarcus Aldridge, who left Wednedsay's game with a bruised back after suffering a scary fall. X-rays were negative, but Aldridge will miss at least two games.
Late-season struggles are nothing new for Portland. As Ben Golliver noted on Wednesday, the Blazers are 79-61 (.564) before the All-Star break since the start of the 2011-12 season but just 24-49 (.329) after.
"We knew this trip was going to be tough," coach Terry Stotts said. "We lost a couple of close ones, but this is a league of adversity. Every team goes through it at some point and it's how you come through it that matters." Portland finishes its road trip in New Orleans on Friday.