The Portland Trail Blazers faithful aren’t having a great time at the moment. With the team on a serious slide, we’re all looking for solutions to this current "funk", but easy answers might not be readily available.
They currently sit 19-22 at the halfway point of the season after racing to a 10-4 start through October and November. The opening flurry wasn’t a true reflection of the talent on this team, but neither is the current five-game losing streak.
The squad is yet to find it’s sweet-spot in what has become a muddled and confusing Western Conference. Yes, the Blazers have lost 8 of the past 10 games, good enough for the 12th seed, but they're still only a game and a half out of 6th.
Losses have a range of magnitudes. Typically, the ability to digest a loss depends on a range of factors including:
- recent form
- nature of the loss
Suffice to say, defeats are a little easier to stomach when the Blazers drop a rare game to a contending-level team in a tight, enjoyable contest.
The current string of losses don’t fit that category and have served as a serious downer, with a number of those games likely wins if the team plays to its anticipated ability.
Below I go through my own personal reactions to such a defeat and the typical phases I work through in the hours and days after the result. We see Alonzo Mourning likely working his own set of stages in this now infamous gif.
(Please note, I’m not trying to diminish the feelings of those going through actual stages of grief and real loss)
A particularly intense ire can start with seconds or minutes left in the game, depending on how mathematically far away the team is from a win or, at the least, pushing for overtime. The game ends and the frustration explodes and depending on your personality, expletives may flow.
You may even verbalize mostly irrational questions. Why didn’t they do this or that? Could there be some unrest within the team? Has Chauncey Billups lost them? Why is the bench so bad? Is there a trade coming? Why isn’t Shaedon Sharpe an All Star yet? Should they just move Lillard and re-build properly? What is going on with all the f&*Y^) turnovers? Should they just tank for Wembanyama? Does this mean they don’t make a big move at the deadline? Do they just blow it up? And what is going on with all the f*&^%& turnovers?
This feeling can last for between 15 minutes to 45 minutes depending on the situation and the severity of the loss.
This is a big one and flows pretty naturally from the frustration in the previous stage. You go through specific plays and periods of the game and, again, irrationally place blame on individuals.
Passionate, and typically rational, Blazers fan Seth Morrigan, known as Sheriff of Portland on Twitter, sums it up poignantly in the minute’s after Thursday’s loss to the Cavaliers. He doesn’t actually think Billups should be fired but it’s a reaction that helps him deal with the defeat.
Damian Lillard records Fire Chauncey Billups in a Fire Chauncey Billups. He needs Fire Chauncey Billups to pass Fire Chauncey Billups for number one on the Fire Chauncey Billups. Fire Chauncey Billups to pass Fire Chauncey Billups— SheriffOfPortland (@SheriffOfPDX) January 13, 2023
[tweet used with permission]
Everyone has their usual suspects. If some are pushing the trade Anfernee Simons barrow, you know where they’re going to lay blame. For those concerned with Billups, Jusuf Nurkic, Josh Hart, the bench, their ire will be directed at that particular target, regardless of how correct or nonsensical it might sound.
I guess this feeling comes from that innate, and not necessarily, helpful human instinct to find meaning in what has happened and apportion responsibility — often in circumstances where there might not be one specific explanation. We get these biases from watching games and reading other opinions on social media and sites likes Blazer’s Edge.
This stage can last a little longer, from between half an hour and a couple of hours. For me in Australia, Blazers homes games take place mid afternoon, so I get a little more time to stew on the same day’s proceedings.
3. Denial/Misplaced Hope
No, I’m not suggesting people are refusing to acknowledge a loss. That’s insanity. The denial involves thoughts that the Blazers will absolutely, 100 percent, bounce back and win the next 10 games, rocketing them to the top of the Western Conference standings. Essentially ignoring the clear flaws in the roster, flaws which the front office was aware of going into the season.
It’s at this time you head to the trade machine and conjure up the most unrealistic deals that turn the Blazers into instant contenders.
See, totally unrealistic, but imagine that team?
For me, this tends to last no longer than 30 minutes.
A 180 degree swing hits and thoughts about this team never being good again for years creep in. Ridiculous notions like, “The Blazers have wasted Damian Lillard’s career,” and, “Portland will forever be a mediocre outfit in a smallish market,” dominate. You convince yourself that you’re prepared to live with the a lack of success. “I guess it’s just our lot in life”.
You turn to 2023 mock drafts to speculate on the next chance at happiness to be squandered, asking, “How many losses would it take to get Wembanyama in a Portland jersey? Then, he probably does his knee in his debut.”
Like Denial, Hopelessness tends to be short-lived, probably fading within half an hour.
For me, this is the big one and can last for sometimes days at a time, depending on when the Blazers’ next outing comes.
I spend time with my family, watch a movie, focus on work, listen to music, pretty much anything that’s not basketball-related. It’s important to walk away and not get stuck in a negative cycle. And, personally, this is where I start to bounce back and the moving on begins.
6. Moving On
This is the stage where you watch or listen to the post game press conference, gleaning whatever rays of positivity you can from Chauncey Billups and Damian Lillard as they prepare for the next encounter. You’re still slightly frustrated but you more and more appreciate that this team will live to fight another day.
Unfortunately, for most, this doesn’t take place until the next day. Something still feels off about this team, but in at least 81 instances a season, there’s another Blazers game you can set your sights on and convince yourself into a possible win.
Please note, Moving On is not the same as Denial. Denial is based on completely irrational thought processes and involves some of the most ridiculous ideas a Blazers fan can conjure up. No, Moving On involves realistic feelings and thoughts, based in real life examples and possibilities that may actually eventuate.
Any loss is hard to take, but the bad ones take a little longer to recover from. Ultimately, this team is still a work in progress and was never meant to contend this season despite their roaring start raising our expectations.
The Blazers are pretty much where I thought they’d be back in October. But the way in which it’s happened — strong start, terrible since — has hit fans harder than it would have had they been consistently at, or just under, .500 from the beginning.
Everyone experiences losses differently. For me, the above is roughly the process I go through, but it’s never an exact science.
The last thing I’ll say is urge everyone not to get too low on these results, the wins will return, I promise. The current incarnation of this roster is not complete and losses will come. Just go through your process and get to the other side.