The Portland Trailblazers are in the midst of a down year, and it’s partly down to the team’s dismal start to the season. Ravaged by injuries to big men Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkić, the Blazers limped to an 8-12 start, just months after making the Western Conference Finals. But the Blazers have showed flashes of brilliance, especially after Carmelo Anthony came onboard in late November. The veteran has been a steady hand for Portland, who have managed to stay in the postseason picture in a loaded conference. Having said that, they remain on the outside looking in, and they’ll need to make a big push to actually make it. So, can the Blazers do it?
There is little doubt they can. The Blazers are a talented team, and are led by one of basketball’s premier big game players in Damian Lillard. And Dame Time has been on a good run of form. The Salt Lake Tribune’s report on Lillard’s hot streak details how the Weber State alum dropped over 50 points in three Portland wins, including a 61-point, 10-rebound, 7-assists masterpiece against the Golden State Warriors.
Unsurprisingly, Lillard was named an All-Star once more, and was drafted by no less than LeBron James. Bwin’s 2020 All-Star Game infographic outlines how the stars in Team LeBron have over 75 appearances in the special game—an indication of how the team captain put a premium on experience. Lillard, of course, would’ve been one of Team LeBron’s veterans, having made the annual showcase five times already, including this season’s. But an untimely groin injury just prior to All-Star Weekend forced Dame to miss the All-Star game. Crucially, Dame missed 5 regular season games, and that absence proved costly as the Blazers went just 1-4 in those games.
Lillard has since returned, and it is a timely boost for the Blazers. That means they’ll have their dynamic Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum backcourt back for the stretch run. Portland will have to play close to perfect basketball from this point forward if they are to make a postseason push. Having Dame and CJ will help greatly in that regard. The return of Jusuf Nurkić will hopefully galvanize the Blazers even more, as they’ll get not only an inside threat, but also another possible fulcrum for their offense.
Things are looking up for the Blazers, who no doubt have the talent to string together multiple wins, especially when they count. The fact that Portland are tied with San Antonio and Philadelphia for the 4th easiest schedule remaining (with a strength of schedule of .508) also bodes well for the team. An impressive winning streak, though, won’t be enough for the Blazers. They’ll need the three teams ahead of them for that 8th seed in the West—the Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Pelicans, and Sacramento Kings—to start losing immediately. Otherwise, even a strong late season push won’t get the Blazers into the postseason.