The Portland Trail Blazers’ run as one of the hottest teams in the NBA has screeched to a halt following one of their most inexplicable losses of the season.
Recent history doesn’t hint toward the Trail Blazers turning their fortunes around against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night, but they’ll need to if they plan on avoiding their first four-game skid in more than a year.
The Trail Blazers (44-23) opened their five-game road swing with a 113-97 win over Toronto for their eighth victory in nine games to get within a game of Memphis for the Western Conference’s second seed. They’ve followed with three consecutive losses, capped by Friday’s 111-104 defeat to lowly Orlando, and are now in fourth – 1 1/2 behind Houston and three in back of the Grizzlies.
"Season slipping away? No," coach Terry Stotts said. "Look, I have a lot of confidence in our team. We’re very resilient. This is a very disappointing loss, but we’re still a very good basketball team. We’re going to play better, but tonight is really disappointing."
LaMarcus Aldridge has managed to raise his production in spite of the losing streak – he’s averaged 29.7 points in his last three – but Damian Lillard has experienced one of his slowest stretches of the season. He’s scored fewer than 20 points in all three games while shooting 39.1 percent.
"(Aldridge) has been great, I’ve got to be better," Lillard told the Trail Blazers’ official website. "I haven’t made a lot of shots that I usually make. I just need to play better. I feel like if I play better then I give our team a better chance to win."
Portland has fared well in the second game of back-to-backs this season, winning nine of 14, and needs a victory to avoid matching its longest losing streak since dropping four straight March 7-12, 2014.
"I think we would all hate to lose these three games and have to wait another two or three days to play," Lillard said. "We get to go play again (Saturday) against a tough team and try to finish this road trip off right."
Memphis (48-21), which is 9-7 on the second night of back-to-backs, has won all three matchups with the Trail Blazers this season and eight of the last nine.
The Grizzlies bounced back from Tuesday’s loss at Detroit with a convincing 112-101 win at Dallas on Friday. Marc Gasol recorded a second straight double-double for the first time since Feb. 8-10, and Zach Randolph scored a game-high 21.
”We just needed to change our mindset a little bit,” said Mike Conley, who returned after missing four games with a sprained right ankle. ”Go out and play aggressive. Play with reckless abandon on defense. Play hard through the mistakes.”
The Grizzlies lost two of four games in Conley’s absence, and coach Dave Joerger pointed to his point guard’s presence as a big reason for his team’s much-improved performance.
”He is a leader for us and came out and set the tone,” Joerger said of Conley, who had 14 points in 26 minutes.
Memphis has shot 50.4 percent from the field against the Trail Blazers this season while holding Portland to 39.7 percent, the worst for Stotts’ club against any team.
Gasol has been the key. He’s averaged 20.7 points and 6.3 assists this season against the Blazers, while Randolph has pulled down 12.3 rebounds per game.
Courtney Lee has averaged 16.3 points in the season series, shooting 56.7 percent and going 8 for 12 from beyond the arc.