The Charlotte Hornets connected on 10 of their first 11 shots en route to a 44-point first quarter on Sunday. The Blazers never got closer than nine after the game's opening minutes, their long-shot comeback hopes in crunch-time ended by Carmelo Anthony's ball-hogging as much as they were spurred his red-hot shooting to begin the fourth quarter.
It's not like the Hornets were anywhere near their peak, either. LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward and Devonté Graham didn't play against Portland, leaving the likes of Brad Wanamaker and Cody Martin as Charlotte's top perimeter playmakers behind Terry Rozier.
Needless to say, there's not much encouragement for the Blazers to glean from their embarrassing loss to the sorely depleted Hornets on Sunday. But that didn't stop Terry Stotts from reaching for it regardless, stressing after the game that his team – when full-strength, of course – is still trending "the right direction" as the playoffs fast approach.
"Obviously, this first quarter of tonight's game kinda dampers it a little bit," Stotts said, "but I think overall we're going in the right direction when we have everybody."
Damian Lillard didn't play against the Hornets, sitting out for a second straight game due to right hamstring tendinopathy. Portland's immense offensive struggles should hardly have been surprising given his absence. The Blazers score 11.2 more points per 100 possessions with Lillard on the floor this season, per Cleaning the Glass, in the 97th percentile league-wide.
Charlotte's defense has been quietly solid all season, and a bit stingier since Ball went down with a fractured wrist on March 21st. Still, it's not asking too much of an attack led by C.J. McCollum and Norman Powell – with a supporting cast featuring plenty of offensive-oriented players – to manage better than a dismal 81.3 offensive rating, per Cleaning the Glass, versus a merely solid defense like the Hornets'.
And that's the most distressing takeaway from Sunday's game, at least to everyone but Stotts. Despite that absolutely hideous display of first-quarter defense, it was the other side of the ball that ultimately let the Blazers down most.
Stotts, though, is clinging to the notion that his team is a much different one with a full roster. There's evidence suggesting as much, most notably Portland's 105.7 defensive rating with Nurkic on the floor, per NBA.com/stats – a hair better than the top-ranked Los Angeles Lakers'.
But that elite defense has come over a small sample size, against inferior competition. Nurkic, remember, didn't play against the LA Clippers, and that defensive rating is deflated by the tanking Oklahoma City Thunder managing just 85 points in Portland's historic blowout victory two weeks ago.
Stotts can say all he wants about subtle progress and his perception of the Blazers' peak when fully healthy. But truly good teams don't need to excuse bad losses like Sunday's, use Lillard's absence as an excuse or mine lineup data for slivers of optimism.
Portland's distressing recent play, no matter what Stotts says, speaks best for itself.