The Portland Trail Blazers didn’t just enter Wednesday’s action as losers of five straight, engaging in tank mode no holds barred. Their aggregate deficit dating back to the All-Star break was the largest of all time over any team’s five-game stretch since the league’s inception. Let’s just say no one was surprised when Portland kept making the wrong type of history while facing a title contender on the road.
Portland has been outscored by 156 points in their last 5 games🤯 That's the worst 5-game span in NBA history by point differential. Blazers-Jazz (-18) is currently the largest spread this season, all according to @EliasSports @ESPNStatsInfo @MackNova
— Erin Kate Dolan (@erinkatedolan) March 9, 2022
The injured, inexperienced, purposely-depleted Blazers fell to the Utah Jazz 123-85 on Wednesday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena, treating a national television audience to the ugly, real-time realities of tanking. At least they avoided the worst loss in team annals, though. It didn’t seem like Portland’s 65-point margin of defeat in 1988 was at risk when Chauncey Billups’ team trailed the Jazz by the laughable score of 94-43 late in the third quarter.
As it turned out, the Blazers’ 38-point loss wasn’t even as lopsided as Monday’s rout by hand of the the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“I thought we got some pretty good looks to be honest with you, just couldn’t make them. Couldn’t make them,” Chauncey Billups said after the game. “And when you can’t make shots and when you can’t stop them, you’re gonna have a tough night.”
Billups was speaking more matter-of-factly than out of frustration. His team was a staggering 18-point underdog in Salt Lake City, a spread that almost felt low considering how putrid Portland has been offensively without Anfernee Simons on the floor since the New Year. He joined Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, Nassir Little and Justise Winslow on the sidelines again, this time with left patellar tendinopathy—a different injury designation than what kept him out of the Blazers’ previous blowout loss.
Related: Portland isn’t actually trying to win. Don’t confuse the active players’ efforts for aligning with those of their team’s big picture, though.
“We played hard, we was just overmatched in this game,” Billups said. “Make no mistake about it. That’s a very good basketball team. We didn’t give up. We didn’t give up, kept fighting, kept playing, and they did what they had to do.”
Trendon Watford dropped a career-high 22 points, going 9-of-9 from the free throw line while continuing to flash real playmaking dynamism and nascent three-point range. Keon Johnson scored 15 points for the second time in three games, matching his personal best. Greg Brown III had a few eyebrow-raising moments as a passer, too.
A career night for the rook tonight.@trendonw | #RipCity pic.twitter.com/OTsQzgjbUy
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) March 10, 2022
With Josh Hart and Brandon Williams combining to shoot 5-of-24 from the field and missing all nine of their three-point attempts, though, the Blazers just had no chance to stay even remotely competitive against the most efficient offense in the NBA.
But even if jumpers keep clanking and opponents continue carving them up as the season wears on, Billups knows Portland won’t quit. At this point in their respective careers, the Blazers’ group of second-round picks, undrafted free agents and raw teenagers has too much to gain from simply getting on the floor for extended playing time on a game-by-game basis at basketball’s highest level.
“I think our guys are playing for a bigger cause,” Billups said. “We got a lot of really young guys in the league that are trying to prove that they belong in this league. Win, lose or draw, they know they’re being evaluated every night. I think just with that alone, they’re happy, they’re excited. They’ve earned their spot to be in the NBA this year.”