Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard said the team must make an honest assessment about its struggles against high-level competition after Thursday's 122-103 loss to the Utah Jazz.
Lillard, who scored a team-high 23 points in the loss, told reporters the Blazers need to show "some pride" in games against the NBA's elite:
"We have to look in the mirror, and you gotta look at it. You have to look at the games we've won, and you have to look at the games we've struggled in. The games we've struggled in have been against the top-level competition. I don't think it's hard to see. I'm not saying nothing that's not obvious.
"I think for us, the first step is just acknowledging the fact that's the truth. And just being sharper, and locked in, and just taking that to heart. Having some pride about the fact that we don't play well against the top-level teams. We have to take that to heart ... have something prove. Have some pride about those games. I think that's the start."
Lillard's comments come after three blowout losses to high-profile opponents over Portland's last four games. It lost to the Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks by a combined 54 points. The team's only win over that span came over the Oklahoma City Thunder, who own a 20-32 record.
The 30-year-old six-time All-Star noted the struggles go beyond the past handful of games, though.
"When we play against the top-level teams, we don't play well," Lillard said. "We get put away. At Phoenix, we got put away. Tonight, we got put away. At Denver, we got put away. Milwaukee at home, put away. Clippers, got put away. I mean, it's not like it's a small sample size. It's what happens."
It's an important distinction because the Western Conference is remarkably strong this season, and the Eastern Conference also features some legitimate title contenders, led by the Bucks and Brooklyn Nets, so the Blazers are facing a gauntlet if they want to make a championship run.
So Portland, which has compiled a 30-21 record despite its struggles against top-tier foes, must find a way to better compete against the likes of the Jazz, Suns and Clippers, who own the top three seeds in the West.
Lillard is hopeful the Blazers will be able to turn a corner in that regard before the postseason.
"We are capable of it," he said. "And I think you all know I'm the most optimistic, the biggest believer. But there comes a time when you get on the floor, you've got to do it. You have to show that you are that level of team. And we haven't shown it when those matchups come."
The next major litmus test is set for April 20-21, when Portland is scheduled to face the Clippers and Denver Nuggets on back-to-back nights.
It also has games with the Nets, Jazz, Suns and reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers left on its regular-season schedule.
So there's ample opportunity for the Blazers to improve their performance against those top teams down the stretch.