Just a few nights ago the Portland Trail Blazers had their way with the Western Conference leading San Antonio Spurs. But once again the Blazers have fallen into a rut of losing close games to teams they should beat. Sunday they lost by two to New Orleans and last evening falling by five points to the Memphis Grizzlies.
This season is a littered with games in which Portland could have or should have won. There is of course a part of me, that as a fan, I get frustrated with the losses. But I aim to be level headed in my fandom. What keeps me grounded in this season of sputtering, false starts and short finishes is the belief that the future is bright.
Despite my optimism and confidence that playing time for the young players this season will pay dividends in the future, I do have concerns. I wonder if leadership could become a problem. The Blazers have multiple players that lead by example and seem to do things the right way. Yet no one currently on the team, besides Wesley Matthews is a vocal presence. And even he is not a strident personality.
Although Portland ranks only 21st in the league in assists, averaging 21.6 a game, as a collection of players they appear to be relatively unselfish. For many reasons this is definitely a positive, a trait of a winning team. But who is the guy with ice in his veins, the one who wants the ball with the game on the line.
I don’t doubt that a collection of soft spoken guys, who for the most part lead by example, could not be a winning team. With that said, one guy needs to emerge from the pack. That guy is Damian Lillard. This season, Lillard’s rookie year, may be too much to ask for him to assume this role. He’s still learning the ropes and trying to make a good impression with the veterans and the organization.
For the Blazers to become a championship contending team Damian Lillard needs to be the guy they trust with the game on the line. He needs to be a steady presence and cool character. Lillard has demonstrated he possess these attributes. His play on the court speaks for itself. The next step in Lillard’s and the Blazers growth is Damian’s ability to lead. When he does this, the Blazers will be on the winning side of close games.
Patrick Hughes is on Twitter. Follow him at @phughespdx