After such a promising start to its seven-game series against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Portland Trail Blazers have been pushed to the edge of elimination heading into Game 5 of their Western Conference first-round series on Wednesday night near Orlando.
On Tuesday came the worst news of all for Portland in that star guard Damian Lillard is out of Game 5 with a sprained right knee.
The Trail Blazers won Game 1 against the top-seeded Lakers 100-93 on Aug. 18, exposing Los Angeles' below-average 3-point shooting and lack of depth in the backcourt.
But the Lakers have stormed back to win the past three games by an average of 17 points, benefiting from the types of championship performances Los Angeles expected when it signed Anthony Davis last summer and paired him with fellow All-Star forward LeBron James.
Portland, meanwhile, not only saw its early advantage swept away, they will have to move on without Lillard, for at least one game anyway. His right knee injury occurred midway through the third quarter of Game 4 while driving to the basket.
Lillard, a five-time All Star who averaged 30 points and eight assists during the regular season, had an MRI exam following the game and the results were inconclusive. Another MRI on Tuesday confirmed the news the team did not want to hear.
"It's a tough position against a good team," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "We'll regroup. It's one game at a time. You can break out all the cliches, but we know what you're up against when you're down 1-3 to a good team. So, we've got to battle."
Davis was limited in the second half of Game 4 for the Lakers because of tightness in his back, but still finished with 18 points in 18 minutes.
He didn't seem overly concerned with the ailment following the game.
"My back is fine. It got a little tight," Davis said. "We were playing great basketball and we had a big enough lead that I was able to get my back all the way healthy. There's no question that I'll be playing in Game 5."
Veterans like Davis and James know the importance of Game 5. Despite being up 3-1 in the series, they understand that the close-out game is the toughest to win in a series.
"The team that you're playing is desperate and they're going to give you everything they got because they know they can be sent home," James said. "So I have to come in with that same desperate mindset. That's always been my psyche going into a close-out game. Hopefully, we can do just that on Wednesday."
The Lakers could add some depth to its backcourt if Rajon Rondo is deemed fit to play.
He broke his right thumb during practice on July 12 and hasn't played since the season restarted. The surgically repaired thumb has healed, but Rondo was a late scratch prior to Game 3 because of back spasms and the condition kept him out again in Game 4.
Rondo averaged 7.1 points during the regular season and was second on the team at five assists per game.
The Lakers have been starting Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at the guard spots, but neither is a true point guard like Rondo.
--Field Level Media