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Damian Lillard.

The expectation to win is weighing heavily on the Portland Trail Blazers

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After proving most people wrong and making the playoffs against the odds last season, the Portland Trail Blazers are no longer a surprise team in the league.

The Oregon-based outfit can't go under the radar again and are not being underestimated, and they're struggling to deal with this new level of pressure.

At the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign, Vegas predicted that the Blazers would win just 26.5 games and cough up their playoff spot after an offseason in which they'd lost LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez - four of their starting five players.

Under the guidance of one of the league's best coaches in Terry Stotts - who finished second to Steve Kerr in the Coach of the Year voting as a result - Portland won 44 games and easily made it to the postseason.

This season, however, Vegas predicted a win total of 45.5 for Stotts' team and once again they may get it wrong as the Blazers are in danger of securing less than that total.

Defence

There is a different level of expectation in Portland now and many believe they'll win more than their fair share of games after overachieving last year. But things have not gone well recently.

In terms of defensive efficiency, the Trail Blazers have the worst defence in the league giving up 109.7 points a night.

Portland Trail Blazers v New York Knicks

In their most recent loss, they were hit for 137 points by the Cleveland Cavaliers, 81 of which came in the first half.

Per Zach Lowe of ESPN, in a win on Sunday over the Brooklyn Nets, where they had given up 64 points to the lowly Nets by half-time, Meyers Leonard approached Damian Lillard, the team's franchise player, and said: "Maybe it's time for you to talk one-on-one with some guys about their defence. Everyone respects what you say."

Lillard chose not to do it. He later told ESPN: "The defensive issues -- I'm a part of it. I didn't want to go telling people, 'You need to do this or that.' Enough talking has been done."

The All-Star point guard has done some of that talking too and in public. Speaking to reporters earlier this month, he didn't mince his words by saying that the Blazers "kind of suck right now".

Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns

One reason for the increase in expectation is the fact that the franchise spent some money in the offseason. Evan Turner was signed to a four-year $70 million deal and they forked out $75m to Allen Crabbe in a four-year extension.

For this organisation, that's a huge amount of money to pay to two players who are not starters. Turner, in particular, has struggled in the early parts and as Lowe pointed out on ESPN, even he was surprised at the amount he got.

Despite both players getting that money, though, it isn't seen as a problem within the locker room as chemistry among the team is generally strong.

"We got no haters here," Lillard said. "Guys are happy for each other."

Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns

Effort

It comes down to playing hard, which the Blazers are not doing currently. Last year they were disregarded and they used that to play with a chip on their shoulder. That chip isn't there at present.

Dame Dolla, however, can't be faulted too much for his effort and consistency on a nightly basis as he has once again been the shining light for the team.

The two-time All-Star is averaging a career-high 28.4 points per game and can surely expect a trip to New Orleans in February for this year's All-Star festivities after being overlooked in the previous campaign.

But Lillard is not the most vocal leader on the floor and prefers to lead by example with his play. However, offence isn't really the issue for Portland.

Utah Jazz v Portland Trail Blazers

"It's just disappointing," head coach Stotts said. "We should have picked up where we left off last season. We haven't."

The Blazers have one of the best backcourts in Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but their reliance on them to score is becoming telling. When one or both players has a bad shooting night, they generally tend to lose.

With an 8-9 record, it may not be time to hit the panic button just yet in Portland, but the early signs are not encouraging.

Topics:
Damian Lillard
Portland Trail Blazers
Northwest Division
Western Conference
NBA
CJ McCollum

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