After falling short again last night, the young Trail Blazers have racked up six straight losses. So much for that promising start.

Why Portland is losing isn’t a secret. This is a young, inexperienced team. Meyers Leonard is out with a dislocated shoulder. Damian Lillard is playing with four fingers and has all but stopped taking outside shots. Depending on the matchup, Chris Kaman is starting at power forward. Did I mention Lillard’s thumb? The Blazers are in the midst of a cross country road swing that has included a Sunday matinee game, a back to back, and a couple of matchups against premier defenses. The chips aren’t exactly stacked in their favor.

How Portland is losing is where things start to get interesting. Though they haven’t been able to get over the hump since melting down against Detroit, there are positive signs that things aren’t quite as bad as they seem. Things aren’t at Houston-levels of panic quite yet.

The Blazers, against a clampdown Memphis team, rallied late to erase a double-digit deficit. Lillard was still getting used to playing with a wrap on his injured thumb and his outside shot looked like Tony Allen’s, but Portland found other contributors. Al-Farouq Aminu hit a three with seconds remaining, giving the Blazers their first lead since early in the first quarter. If it wasn’t for Zach Randolph’s ability to secure offensive rebounds and put back in said offensive rebounds, Portland would have walked away victorious. They had to settle for a one-point loss.

Portland had to follow that game up with an early 2pm Sunday matinee against the Hornets, an impossible start time for a Western team traveling East. As expected, they slept through the first three quarters and found themselves down twenty-nine. But, instead of rolling over and chalking it up to a schedule loss, Portland clawed their way back and got it to within single-digits late in the fourth. Nicolas Batum couldn’t miss all night and downed his old team with a few clutch jumpers, but the game was still a lot closer than it had any right to be. The Blazers never stopped playing hard.

Which brings us to last night, the second night of a back-to-back for Portland. Once again, Portland found themselves down double-digits late into the fourth. Manu Ginobili was on fire, pouring in fourteen during the final frame. Boris Diaw was a matchup nightmare, taking the Portland bigs into the lane and will and passing out to open perimeter shooters. The defense held Portland to just 80 points, by far their lowest total of the season. So, you know, Spurs basketball.

The Spurs are the best defensive team in the league this season, and a double-digit deficit against them is a killer. But again, Portland never stopped competing. Noah Vonleh hit his first three as a Blazer, Aminu hit a couple of late jumpers, and despite playing like they were stuck in mud all night the Blazers were down just three with a few minutes remaining. Manu took over after that and made easy work of Portland down the stretch, but the Blazers still had a chance late.

The Blazers haven’t yet won on this road trip, but damn if they didn’t make things interesting before the final buzzer in all three. Veteran teams know how to close out close games, and despite Chris Kaman’s presence at the end of the bench the Blazers are about as far away from a veteran team as you can get. Learning how to win comes with experience, and Portland just hasn’t quite leveled up yet.

Which is why games like last night’s, despite the outcome, are so encouraging. They played solid defense, hung around, and gave themselves a chance to win. Despite the hot start, the losses are going to come fast and furious this season. Battling until the final whistle sounds is about as much as you can ask for.

Maybe it’s Lillard’s steady hand leading the way, or maybe it’s Coach Stotts getting the guys to buy into his system. Whatever the reason, Portland isn’t going down easily. Once they learn how to win close games like a playoff-caliber team, watch out.