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Chauncey Billups reveals who’s to blame for Blazers’ tough loss to Kings

Blazers, Chauncey Billups, Damian Lillard

The Portland Trail Blazers come up short on the second leg of a back-to-back on Wednesday night, falling to the Sacramento Kings 125-121 at Golden 1 Center

Chauncey Billups’ team squandered the chance to not just win its fifth straight game, but come within percentage points of fourth place in the Western Conference after a chaotic start to the regular season. Making the defeat especially frustrating for the Blazers — in addition to losing a game that Richaun Holmes didn’t play and De’Aaron Fox was ejected — is that they had the chance to take control of it in the second quarter, just like they did in Tuesday’s commanding victory over the depleted Denver Nuggets.

But the Kings closed the first half on a high note, cutting their deficit to two at intermission. They then used the confidence of a sparse yet raucous home crowd to ride a wave of shotmaking in the fourth quarter that Portland couldn’t overcome.

It’s not like Portland completely fell apart late, either, lacking chances to earn a rare road victory. Norman Powell tied the game on a 3-pointer with just over five minutes remaining, and the Blazers had several opportunities to retake the lead thereafter. Stops on the other end proved frustratingly fleeting, though, with Sacramento scoring 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting and 2-of-3 from deep after Powell knotted up the score. Even outstanding late-game offense might not have been enough for Portland on Wednesday considering the way it hemorrhaged points on the other end.

Billups lamented the Blazers’ mental processing on defense after the game. What also clearly nagged at him were wasted opportunities offensively as a win was at stake late — especially because the rookie coach believes he played a part in those failures.

“We didn’t get good enough shots, but that’s really on me,” Billups said. “I take responsibility for getting us in things late in games, getting the ball to the right people in the right spots. I gotta be better at that.”

The box score told a more optimistic story of Portland’s clutch offense than the action itself. Seven of the team’s 13 points in the last five minutes came after Sacramento had extended its lead to 121-114 on a triple from Marvin Bagley III — the latest bit player to kill the Blazers away from Moda Center — with 30 seconds remaining on the game clock. Over the previous four and a half minutes, Portland scored just six points and committed three turnovers.

Of course, Billups probably wouldn’t have allowed for that critical self-reflection at all if his best players performed up to their normal standard when it mattered most. Instead, Lillard went 1-of-3 with a turnover in the game’s last few minutes, while CJ McCollum’s game-long labors crested with a pair of giveaways and not a single shot attempt.

Is this a quality look for Portland given circumstances of time and score?

Considering Lillard had missed all five of his previous tries from deep since halftime, maybe not. As the ball left his hands, though, it was certainly easy to envision Lillard’s pull-up bomb falling through, another sign of his early-season struggles dissipating.

Perhaps he delivers in the same scenario as soon as Friday’s matchup with the Golden State Warriors. But given Billups’ critique of his hands-off approach late in Wednesday’s loss to an inferior opponent, it’s fair to wonder if Lillard will get that chance — not to mention whether Portland will be able to keep up with the league’s best team.