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Guards Disappoint as Blazers Fall to Grizzlies

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Portland comes up short for the second game in a row, and it’s not the fault of the big men.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

For the second time in three days, the Portland Trail Blazers fell to the Memphis Grizzlies 120-113 at the Moda Center. CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard led the Blazers in scoring with 27 and 23 points respectively while Jusuf Nurkic put together a double-double with 16 points and 19 boards. Ja Morant and Jonas Valanciunas were the top scorers for the Grizzlies. Morant poured in 28 points while Valanciunas added 21 along with 10 rebounds.

You can find a quarter-by-quarter recap of the game from Steve Dewald here. After you’ve caught up with that, here are five observations from today’s loss.

1,2,3 Cancun?

Is this subheading harsh? Maybe a little, but that’s what happens when you suffer loss after loss like this. The Blazers are 2-8 in their last 10 games and have lost five in a row. If you’re the Blazers and you supposedly want to try and make a deep run in the playoffs, you have to show that you can not only beat playoff teams, but fringe playoff teams like the Grizzlies. A game like this is a must-win. Instead of showing out they put up a dud.

The Blazers didn’t seem to play with any urgency whatsoever until the fourth quarter. Lillard was bad (more on this in a bit), McCollum seemingly couldn’t have cared less about anything other than getting his shot. The only players who played with winning urgency were Norman Powell and Jusuf Nurkic. This was a terrible loss in a string of terrible losses. This team has to do some soul-searching about what they want to accomplish ASAP.

A Hard Game For Dame

Here are some words that I thought I’d never write: Damian Lillard is playing really bad basketball as of late and is actively hurting the Blazers. Today, he was 8-for-27 from the field and 4-for-17 on shots inside the arc. He settled for inefficient fadeaway jumpers from mid-range far too often and didn’t finish layups consistently. He was 4-for-8 from three, which is good, but he had only taken four before the fourth quarter, which is not.

Lillard just hasn’t been that good lately. He’s either had to sit out to nurse his hamstring issue or just struggled to find a rhythm offensively. He’s been sub-par all year defensively, so he’s not going to make up for it on that end. When Lillard is struggling on offense, the Blazers are really bad. It’s that simple, and we saw it hold true today.

Derrick Jones Jr.

Derrick Jones Jr. only played five minutes on Sunday. He was tied with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson for the fewest minutes of any Blazer to see the floor today. It seems more and more likely that Jones will be squeezed out of the rotation as we get closer to playoffs, which is exactly what I was worried would happen when the Blazers signed him this past offseason.

The problem is that when Jones Jr. doesn’t get a flashy dunk, he’s not contributing much at all. He’s a decent help defender and could be more effective on offense if Terry Stotts used him as a cutter more, but they don’t use him in those ways so it doesn’t matter. The reality is that Jones is just a limited player, and it’s hard to argue that he should get more than five minutes because he just doesn’t change that much for Portland.

Norm Powell Shooting Troubles

Earlier this week, I argued that Norman Powell overall has been a positive influence on the Blazers. I’d still say that’s true; his 17 points a game are helpful, and theoretically when he, Lillard, and McCollum are all clicking, Portland should be in for at least 75-80 points from that trio. Like I said in my piece, at that point you need just decent enough defense and a solid night from role players to put yourself in a position to win.

But one thing that hasn’t been clicking for Powell is his shot. He was shooting 34% from outside coming into this game. His 0-for-3 performance from three today certainly won’t boost that percentage. He wasn’t brought in to just shoot deep; three-level scoring is his real appeal, not just his outside scoring. But at the very least, Powell needs to get closer to 40% or so from three, because that’s the shot that’s going to be really helpful for Portland.

Nurk Smash!

Okay, we’ve been too doom and gloom. Let’s end on something positive, like Jusuf Nurkic’s physicality these past two games. Nurk is at his best when he remembers he’s a 7-foot 280-pound beast who can be nearly impossible to move around when he puts his mind to it. Today, I’d say he remembered how big he is.

Nurkic had 16 points and 19 boards today and was absolutely everywhere on defense. If he wasn’t, Portland would’ve given up 150 points. Nurk’s intensity and energy were by far the best of any Blazer today. When he plays like the bruiser he really is, he’s a really good NBA center.

Too Easy

The Blazers, particularly their small players, let Memphis have an easy time, giving up 33 fast break points in the first three quarters. They stopped the bleeding in the fourth, but they had already dug themselves a hole that they couldn’t climb out of.

Allowing Memphis 52.2% from the three-point arc wasn’t encouraging, but it wasn’t fatal either. Instant layups and dunks spelled Portland’s doom...a discouraging way to fall in an important game.

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Next up, the Blazers will travel to Indiana to take on the Pacers. The two teams will play on Tuesday, April 27 at 4 p.m.