Trail Blazers Find Wins Harder To Come By At Home This Season
It seemed as though the Trail Blazers were on the precipice of their first extended win streak of the season after returning home from a 4-1 road trip on November 27. After starting the trip by beating the Grizzlies and then losing to the 76ers, Portland bested the Nets and Wizards in back-to-back games by a total of seven points before finishing off the trip by soundly defeating the Knicks 103-91 to head back to the northwest with their first three-game winning streak of the season.
And with four-straight home games on the horizon, it looked as if they were set up to keep that streak alive before heading out on another five-game trip starting December 11 versus Golden State.
But while the players and coaches headed west for home the wins apparently stayed back east, with the Trail Blazers dropping their next two at the Moda Center to the Bucks and Pelicans in games that weren’t really all that competitive. The losses dropped the Trail Blazers to 7-6 at home this season, meaning they currently have a better win percentage on the road than at home after 23 games, an oddity for a team that historically has had one of the best home-court advantages in the NBA.
“I think on the road, it's you against everybody,” said Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard. “You kind of take on the mentality of a villain cause you know the people with you is all you have. And the pressure is on the team at home to take care of their home court. If we have a five-game road trip and we go 3-2, that's a good road trip for us, but every home team expects to win home games and for us, I think it's the same. Teams come in here and they like 'If we win this is a plus for us. If we don't win then we've got to get the next road game.' I just think it's more pressure to win a home game than it is on the road.”
And for whatever reason, the Trail Blazers seem to be feeling that pressure this season. With so many home games to start the year — Portland has already played 32 percent of their 41-game home scheduled roughly a month and a half into the 2017-18 season — the hope was that they’d be able to get off to a better start than they have in the last two seasons in order to avoid the need for a late-season push to qualify for the playoffs.
Things haven’t really turned out that way, as the Trail Blazers have barely been better than .500 at the Moda Center despite having one of the easiest home schedules thus far this season. Portland has only hosted two games against teams currently in the top four of the Eastern and Western conference standings, so it’s not as if they’re being beaten by the best at home. They’re simply being beaten.
“We've just got to execute a little bit better, I think that's the bottom line,” said Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum. “I don't have a recipe for why we're losing or why we're winning, I think it's just been up and down and that's how we've been this year. So we've got to figure it out.”
As for why that is, nobody on the team seems to have a good answer. A few players pointed out that they’ve simply been an inconsistent team over the last two seasons, and that inconsistency hasn’t been confined to road games. Others opined that perhaps they’re not putting themselves in position to utilize their home-court advantage, and thus, aren’t reaping the benefits that come along with playing in front of an arena full of diehard fans.
“I think we've got arguably the best home-court advantage as far as the fans and the environment,” said Lillard. “For them to have the impact that they have it has to be a game. It has to be a game in the fourth quarter and I think we've had a few losses at home where we didn't give ourselves a chance for it to be a game. Against Milwaukee getting down big. Against New Orleans, they took an 18-point lead in the third quarter. Against Toronto, they jumped out on us. So we've had games at home where we didn't give our crowd a chance to have that impact on the game.”
Whatever the reason, if the Trail Blazers want to improve upon their eighth-place finish from last season, they’ll need to do a much better job of defending home court. They’ve got two home games remaining versus the Wizards and Rockets before heading out on another five-game trip. And while t’s too early to say that any game is a must-win with 28 home game left to play, if the Trail Blazers have any chance of becoming the team they set out to be at the start of the season, they can’t let many more chances slip away at the Moda Center.
“Being a 50-win team, you win 30 at home and 20 on the road,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “If you can be over .500 on the road, that's a sign of a good team. Winning 70 percent of your home games is a sign of a good team. Obviously we're not there yet.”