The Portland Trail Blazers reach the midway point of their schedule viewed as one of the bigger underachievers in the NBA this season.
The Trail Blazers reached the Western Conference finals last season but possess a dismal 16-24 record entering Monday night's home game against the Charlotte Hornets.
Portland isn't showing signs of a turnaround either, not with eight setbacks in its past 10 games.
The most recent loss occurred Friday when the NBA-best Milwaukee Bucks rolled to a 122-101 win over the host Trail Blazers.
Star point guard Damian Lillard is miffed over the substandard start.
"Just trying to figure it out, just trying to find a way," Lillard said after the loss to the Bucks. "We're not playing at the level we want to play at consistently, and now it's just trying to find a way to get it done. We're not coming out on the winning end like we would like to, so it's frustrating, and we have to continue to battle."
The backcourt of Lillard (averages of 26.7 points and 7.6 assists) and CJ McCollum (21.7) has been strong. Forward Carmelo Anthony (16.2) has been solid while reviving his career, and big man Hassan Whiteside (15.8 points, 14.0 rebounds, 2.9 blocks) has been a force with 29 double-doubles.
But the individual production isn't equating into team success, and that boggles Lillard.
The eighth-year pro thought losing in the West finals to the Golden State Warriors would lead to making one more important step forward, not multiple steps backward and a change in focus.
"Our expectations coming into this season after the Western Conference finals was to take it a step further," Lillard said. "... But our focus shifted to 'alright, let's get into the playoffs.'"
Right now, Portland doesn't occupy one of the eight Western Conference playoff positions. Instead, the club is in a virtual tie with the Minnesota Timberwolves for 11th place.
The Trail Blazers hope to get back Whiteside back after he sat out Friday's game with an upper respiratory illness.
Portland also sees an opponent on the slate that it likes to view in the Hornets.
The Trail Blazers have won five straight meetings and 16 of the past 20.
Visiting the Pacific Northwest isn't much fun for Charlotte, as it has dropped 11 consecutive games in Portland since prevailing 93-85 on March 29, 2008. The Hornets are 6-22 all-time in Portland.
Charlotte is currently having problems no matter the location of games, as Sunday's 100-92 road loss to the Phoenix Suns was its fourth straight defeat and 10th in the last 12 games.
The Hornets led by as many as 14 points in the second quarter, but the Suns played better in the fourth quarter to leave Charlotte with an unhappy result.
"Our defense gave us a great shot to win this game," Hornets coach James Borrego said during a postgame television interview. "I give our guys a ton of credit for their effort. We had three starters (combine to) go 3-for-22, and most nights that's not going to get you an NBA win."
Guard Terry Rozier was just 1-of-10 shooting for five points after putting together five straight 20-point efforts.
But his poor game presented an opportunity for reserve guard Dwayne Bacon, who scored 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting.
"I love (Bacon's) attack mentality," Borrego said. "He got to the rim, he was aggressive and he opened up his perimeter game. I thought he was fantastic."
Guard Devonte' Graham added 22 points and eight assists and said he felt defense kept the team in the game.
"They just made more plays than we did," Graham said afterward of the Suns. "... It was a solid game to the end for us."
--Field Level Media