Trail Blazers Blow Road Game At A Time They Can’t Afford To

Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson (13) defends as Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard (0) works for a shot-attempt in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Dallas, Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)ASSOCIATED PRESS

In case anyone doubted that the Portland Trail Blazers are just not a good road team, they made a convincing argument on their own behalf Sunday afternoon, when they lost 102-101 to the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center.

The Blazers blew a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, when they had their worst quarter of the season. They scored just nine points in the quarter, their low total in any quarter this season by five, and their low fourth quarter by eight.

Portland’s numbers in the quarter were ugly: The Blazers shot 3 for 16 from the field, 0 for 6 on 3-pointers, 3 for 6 at the free-throw line, had one assist and committed seven turnovers.

“Just some missed opportunities, some turnovers, just some poor decisions,” coach Terry Stotts said.

The circumstances of the game made the loss an especially bitter pill for Blazers fans to swallow. It came against a Dallas team that entered the game at 25-29 and had traded four starters in the last two weeks. The game was the type the Blazers, trying to hold onto a top-four playoff spot in the Western Conference, cannot give away.

The game was the start of a run of nine road games in Portland’s next 10 contests, with the next two games that follow before the All-Star break – Monday night at Oklahoma City, and Wednesday at home against Golden State – coming against the Nos. 3 and 1 teams in the West.

After the All-Star break, the Blazers embark on a seven-game, 13-day road trip that includes games against five teams that are in the top eight of the East – Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Boston, Toronto and Charlotte. The Blazers have already beaten the latter four at home, but their matchups against the East’s No. 1 team, Milwaukee, shows how different things can be home and away. Portland beat the Bucks at the Moda Center 118-103 on Nov. 6, then were absolutely scorched in Milwaukee on Nov. 21, losing 143-100.

Sunday’s game was the second since the Blazers acquired Rodney Hoodin pre-deadline trade with Cleveland. The deal, which sent guards Nik Stauskas and Wade Baldwin (neither of whom were in the rotation) and two second-round draft picks to the Cavaliers, has created some enticing looks from the Blazers bench.

In utilizing Hood, Stotts has opted not to take minutes from other wing players such as starting small forward Maurice Harkless or backup Jake Layman. Instead, he has used Hood in combination with Layman, “point-forward” Evan Turner, guard Seth Curry and one of their reserve 7-footers – Meyers Leonard and Zach Collins. Leonard and Collins had been playing together a lot, but Stotts, at least in a 127-118 home win over San Antonio and Sunday’s game at Dallas, went either-or with Collins and Leonard as a way accommodate Hood.

Hood has shown an ability to create his own shot off the dribble, as well as play within the style the Blazers second unit plays best, with player and ball movement. The early, two-game returns have been promising.

But the Blazers’ success will continue to be driven by their main three scorers. Damian Lillard, who will head to his fourth All-Star Game, was mired in a bit of a shooting funk from the previous two games and the first half Sunday, through which had missed 18 of his last 21 3-point attempts. As he is wont to do, Lillard snapped right out of it with a scintillating third quarter in which he scored 21 points and shot 8 for 10 from the field, including 5 for 6 on 3-pointers. The Blazers, who had a 57-47 halftime lead, allowed Dallas to close to within three, but they scored 27 points in the final 6:57 of the quarter to take a 92-78 lead into the fourth. Portland had been 32-0 when leading at the end of the third.

Portland was up by 13 when Stotts inserted McCollum for Lillard with 9:23 left, and things fell apart quickly. Portland did not score for 7 minutes and 8 seconds, and Nurkic – who was dominant inside at times in getting 18 points and 10 rebounds, fouled out. McCollum, who had been on a hot streak with three consecutive 30-point games, could muster only 14 points and was 6 for 17 from the field and 0 for 5 on 3-pointers.

By the time Stotts put Lillard back in, with 5:10 left, the Blazers’ lead was down to three. Surely Stotts would have loved the Blazers to extend their lead so perhaps he wouldn’t even have to bring back Lillard. After all, Lillard on Monday has to face OKC’s Russell Westbrook, whose currently-running NBA-record streak of nine consecutive triple-doubles started against the Blazers. Instead, he had to rush Lillard back in, and it still was not enough.

The loss dropped the Blazers to 10-14 on the road. Among the top eight in the West, only San Antonio, at 10-19, has a worse road record. Portland, though, has more road games left than any team in the conference.