Struggling Blazers have turned it around before, can they do it again?

Mike Richman

If there's a silver lining in the Trail Blazers red and black nightmare of a season, it's they have some experience waking up from a months long slumber.


Before tip off on Saturday night Terry Stotts pointed to previous iterations of the Blazers that had looked lost only to recover from nosedive in time to make the playoffs.

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"I go back to the (2015-16) and the 16-17 seasons," Stotts said. "We were seven games under .500 in January and we ended up with 44 wins. The next year we were 11 games under .500 on March 1 and we got to .500. So I don't think we ever count ourselves out. Obviously we have an uphill road, but there's a bunch of teams right now in the West that have uphill roads."


That nostalgic trip down Salvaged Season Lane came before the Blazers -- playing without Hassan Whiteside -- were steamrolled by the Milwaukee Bucks. But even after losing for the seventh time in nine games by some miracle of parity the Blazers are still easily within striking distance of the final playoff spot in the West. With all that has gone wrong, the Blazers will wake up Sunday sitting in 10th place, trailing the Memphis Grizzlies by two games in the race for the final playoff spot in the West.


Of course this isn't where the Blazers planned to be when the season started. A January meeting was supposed to be a possible Finals preview not a seemingly predetermined yawner. 


When training camp opened in September the team was talking about chasing championship rings. Instead four months later a combination of disastrous injury luck and a poorly conceived roster has landed the team here: at 16-24 facing a climb to even make the postseason let alone do anything once they get there.


"[We're] trying to figure it out," Damian Lillard said. "Trying to find a way. I think dealing with injuries, not playing at the level we want to play at consistently and just trying to find a way to get it done. We're continuing to fight and we're not coming out on the winning end like we would like to. So, it's frustrating and we've just got to continue to battle."


Like Stotts noted before the game, the Blazers have a not too distant history of late season rallies. They 2015-16 team stormed into the playoffs with a late season surge and snuck into the second round. The following year the Blazers looked lost past the All-Star Break before the Jusuf Nurkic trade helped rescue their playoff hopes. 


Perhaps Nurkic returns to save the Blazers season again this year. He has been eyeing a February return from a fractured left leg for nearly 11 months, and his presence on the court would be a welcomed addition in almost any capacity. Fellow injured big man Zach Collins could also return sometime in March, too. But even with hope and help on the horizon, the Blazers still have to tread water for at least another month or so.


After a loss to the Bucks that felt more inevitable than deflating, the Blazers face a strangely important home game against the 15-26 Charlotte Hornets on Monday night. If they're going to repeat history and make a late season run to the postseason they can't afford to drop home games to sub-.500 teams. Monday's meeting with Charlotte is doubly important considering the three-game trip against Western Conference playoff teams in Houston, Dallas and Oklahoma City that immediately follows.


The expectations in Rip City have shifted from championship hope to playoff push. The team has recalibrated its expectations on the fly. The target has moved from Larry O'Brien to reaching an 83rd game.


And yet Despite their flaws, that's still a realistic option, and the knowledge that they've made similar runs it before can only help fuel a team desperately in need of something positive to point toward.


"I think our experience with getting into tough positions and battling our way out," Lillard said. "Just through our togetherness and the culture that we've built and how we show up every day and do the work, that's kind of led us out of it. We keep our minds on the things that we can improve on and we address that. We don't step around it, and I think in the past, that's been a big part of us coming out of it. 


"So that's where we are right now – just trying to address the things that we aren't doing well enough and not make excuses and just try to find a way and keep battling."

Struggling Blazers have turned it around before, can they do it again? originally appeared on NBC Sports Northwest

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