Evanson: For this year's Blazers it's more of the same, and it's starting to feel awfully familiar
"Groundhog Day" is a great movie.
The 1990s comedy starring Bill Murray pits an arrogant local weatherman against himself and his shortcomings during an identical 24 hours (Groundhog Day) over a series of countless days in an effort to become more than he is, or has been.
Phil Connors, played by Murray, wakes to the same song, meets the same people, makes the same mistakes and repeatedly fails. Over and over and over again.
But while the movie is essentially a man versus himself, to me, it represents the experience of Blazer fans since the arrival of Damian Lillard — a competitive and entertaining team that offers little to no hope for securing the game's ultimate prize. Over and over and over again.
This team is going nowhere.
I take no pleasure in that take. In fact, with every passing year, it infuriates me more and more to watch a truly iconic talent the likes of Damian Lillard continually swimming in a sea of mediocrity.
He is great. The team around him, sadly, isn't. And in an NBA where "good" simply isn't good enough, as a fan of the Blazers, every year feels like the last.
Yes, injuries have significantly altered the look and feel of this year's team. C.J. McCollum, a borderline All-Star, has missed 24 of the team's 38 games due to a foot fracture. Starting center Jusuf Nurkic has missed 25 games as the result of a fractured wrist. Power forward Zach Collins hasn't played this year and has played just 11 games since the 2018-19 season. Guard Rodney Hood's production is down in every discernable statistical category — including points. He's averaging just five points per game, as opposed to the nearly 12 he averaged before his Achilles tear more than 15 months ago.
While not to be dismissed, those cats may equal more regular-season wins, but they still fail to be difference-makers when the rubber meets the road in the playoffs.
To be the best, you have to beat the best. That means bettering teams when it matters most. You can steal wins in the NBA regular season with effort and intensity which even some of the most talented teams lack on a night-in, night-out basis. You can catch a team on the second night of a back-to-back. This season, you might even stumble into an undermanned opponent as the result of a COVID-19 outbreak.
But in the playoffs, in a seven-game series, against the likes of the Nets, Lakers or Clippers, you need horsepower — and outside of Lillard, the Blazers don't — and never — seem to have the horses.
Two years ago, it was the Warriors. Last season, the Lakers. This season's path seems fraught with even more formidable foes, with the Lakers getting better, the Clippers arguably more focused, and an ever-growing juggernaut Nets team almost surely destined for the Finals.
So as a fan, what do you do?
Help isn't on the way. Despite a fast-approaching trade deadline, this team lacks the assets to acquire a difference-maker without trading a necessary piece in the process.
In addition, aside from stars, what else does one need to win a title or at least make a serious run at one? Defense. Something this team seriously lacks.
Over the last five years, Portland has averaged 19th in the league in defensive efficiency, and this year they rank 29th out of the 30 NBA teams.
That's a problem.
Don't believe me? Over that same five-year span, the average defensive efficiency rank of the NBA champions was fifth, and no eventual winner ranked lower than ninth.
So what's new? Why should I feel any different about this year's team opposed to year's past?
Similar personnel (even when healthy), equally if not better opposition with the likes of Utah, Denver and Phoenix all getting better in the West, and the second-most porous defense in the entire league.
It feels like fifth place in the conference, a potential first-round win, and possible second-round sweep at the hands of one of the league's elite.
Well, off to see the groundhog.
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