The Portland Trail Blazers will enter Wednesday’s game at Cleveland having lost three in a row and four out of their last five after a 9-3 start to the season.
That stretch dropped the Blazers (10-7) from first place in the Western Conference into a three-way tie for sixth entering Tuesday night. However, they were just one game out of first.
That illustrates how tight things are in the West. It also shows how each game matters for the Blazers, which makes Damian Lillard missing at least this current four-game trip with a lower leg injury even more detrimental.
The Blazers lost at Milwaukee on Monday and on Wednesday will play at Cleveland (11-6), who enters the game on a three-game win streak.
Despite the struggles, the Blazers have appeared unaffected. They didn’t overvalue their hot start and in turn aren’t in panic mode because of a few recent defeats.
“This is something that we talked about before the season,” Blazers guard Anfernee Simons told reporters Monday in Milwaukee. “We knew at some point, it was gonna happen. It’s just a part of the NBA season.”
Cleveland is a great example of a team that has dealt with the highs and lows of an NBA season. The Cavaliers lost their opening game then won eight consecutive contests to sit at 8-1. Next came a five-game losing streak that left Cleveland at 8-6. Now, they are riding a three-game winning streak.
In order for the Blazers to halt that run, they must fix their suddenly suspect defense. Portland lost 119-111 at the Bucks after falling 118-113 at home Saturday to Utah. This season, Portland is 0-4 when it gives up more than 112 points.
Cleveland is averaging 115.6 points per game, second most in the NBA. Guard Donovan Mitchell, acquired in an offseason trade with Utah, is having an MVP-caliber start to the season. He is averaging 29.8 points, 6 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game. Guard Darius Garland is scoring 23.9 points per game and averaging 7.8 assists.
Containing them will be a must if the Blazers are going to avoid giving up a high number. If Mitchell, Garland and Cleveland’s other shooters get hot, the Blazers could be cooked. The Cavaliers rank second in the NBA in 3-point shooting (39.6%).
Cleveland has also been rock solid on defense, allowing 108.2 points per game, sixth fewest in the NBA.
The Blazers are 7-2 in games Lillard starts and finishes. Without him, winning at Cleveland appears to be a daunting task. So might be most upcoming games until Lillard returns. He will be reevaluated in one to two weeks. But this team appears prepared to ride the downswing while working on what they can control.
“It’s just a matter of how we’re gonna respond and what team we want to be,” Simons said. “I think it’s just another time where we have to show who we are.”
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS AT CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
What: Trail Blazers (10-7) at Cavaliers (11-6), 4 p.m., Wednesday.
Where: Rocket Mortgage Field House, Cleveland.
Radio: Rip City Radio (KPOJ 620 AM).
TV channel: Root Sports Plus (in Portland: Comcast 1253, DirecTV 687-1).
Watch the game live online: You can watch this game live for FREE with fuboTV (free trial). You can also get this game on DirecTV Stream’s “CHOICE” package (promotional offers), if you are out of fuboTV trials, or simply prefer that platform and their pricing plans. If you already have a cable or satellite provider that carries Root Sports and want to watch online, you can watch this game live on Root Sports Live. Games can also be watched through EvocaTV with a monthly subscription.
ODDS (Oregon Lottery/DraftKings)
Moneyline: POR +290 | CLE -350
Spread: POR +8.5 | Over/Under: 217.5
Blazers: Josh Hart (left ankle sprain) is probable. Damian Lillard (right soleus strain), Keon Johnson (left hip pointer), Gary Payton II (return to competition reconditioning) and Greg Brown III (G League) are out.
Cavaliers: Dean Wade (right knee soreness) is probable. Kevin Love (right thumb fracture) is questionable. Ricky Rubio (knee surgery) and Dylan Windler (right ankle sprain) are out.
The Blazers play at 4 p.m., Friday at New York (9-9).
— Aaron Fentress | afentress@Oregonian.com | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook). Subscribe to Oregonian/OregonLive newsletters and podcasts