The Portland Trail Blazers have finished what has otherwise been a disastrous month of April on a high note—winning the first two games of their critical six-game road trip in blowout fashion. While getting back into the win column following a stretch in which they lost five consecutive games and seven of their last eight in certainly a step in the right direction, the question remains—will they be able to sustain the success?
Something obviously clicked in the group following back-to-back losses to the Memphis Grizzlies last weekend, as the players have recently alluded to. While the phrase “better late than never” certainly applies, you have to wonder what took so long for the mentality shift. There’s no question the defensive effort put forth against the Grizzlies (Wednesday) and Indiana Pacers was on a different level than fans have been accustomed to seeing this season, outside of small stretches. In addition, the ball movement and shot selection has improved—notably from Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and even Carmelo Anthony. Again, we’ve seen glimpses of this before, the key is to maintain it.
The team will surely face more adversity over the remaining two weeks of the season, and can’t count on shooting nearly 50% from the field every night. This is when we’ll find out if they have truly turned a corner. The next step will be to prove that they can win close games against quality opponents, and sustain a quality effort for 48 minutes, as well as finding ways to generate offense when shots aren’t falling. They can’t afford to rest on their laurels now that things are headed in a better direction, or bad habits will likely rear their ugly head.
It’s on coach Terry Stotts to help the team harness this positive momentum and stay hungry. If they lose that edge, things will likely go right back to where they were. Unfortunately for Portland, there simply isn’t enough time left for that to happen if they have any hope of a playoff run. It’s not just on Stotts, however. The players need to hold themselves accountable. This obviously starts with Lillard, who’s leadership has been put to the test over the last month. He won’t be able to do it by himself, but as the face of the franchise, it’s up to him to continue setting the example. This includes setting the tone defensively from the jump and ensuring that the team generates quality looks in crunch time instead of relying on hero ball.
Changing a mentality isn’t easy. For too long this season, the Blazers have seemingly been too comfortable with failure. It appears that they’ve flipped a switch, but to truly turn a corner, they’ll need to keep their foot on the gas and avoid another letdown. The upcoming schedule is daunting, but will also provide Portland with an important test to see if they are ready to compete with the best teams in the league. If they are, they’re certainly capable of making a run, as we saw in 2019. If not, sweeping changes could be in order this summer.
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