A look back: The top story lines of the 2017-2018 Trail Blazer season (Part 1 of 2)
A trip down memory lane
There were the highs of a 13-game winning streak, and the lows of a six-game home losing skid. And by the time the regular season ended Wednesday, the Trail Blazers had recorded one of their most memorable seasons in decades.
The Blazers’ 49-win season, which resulted in a Northwest Division title , homecourt advantage for the first time in nine years and their highest playoff seed (third) in 18 years, was marked with storylines that took the fan base on a roller coaster of emotions.
From Maurice Harkless’ see-saw season to Damian Lillard’s run at Most Valuable Player, the Blazers were never dull and never predictable. But more than anything, the story of the regular season was how the Blazers became a more well-rounded team, with contributions up and down the roster.
“I think the storyline this year is how many guys came back improved, and actually put it on the floor and were able to sustain it,’’ Lillard said. “What we got collectively, we haven’t had that in a long time. That was the difference in us getting 49 wins and scratching our way to the eighth spot (last year).’’
Here is a look back at some of the Blazers’ top storylines from the 2017-2018 season:
DAMIAN LILLARD MAKES A RUN AT MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Lillard turned in one of the more dominant seasons in franchise history that carried even more impact because of the timing of his performances.
With several late-game heroics, he ignited the Blazers’ late-season run with play that elevated him from All-Star to super star, and entered him into the national conversation for Most Valuable Player.
Lillard averaged 26.9 points – tied with Kiki Vandeweghe for the third highest in franchise history – and 6.6 assists, but it was how and when he did his damage that separated him.
In February, he kick started the Blazers’ 13-game winning streak with a 44-point game against Golden State. Two games later, with the Blazers trailing by 15 points in the fourth quarter in Phoenix, he went on one of his most memorable scoring flurries, scoring 19 points in the fourth – including a string of 15 consecutive – before capping his 40-point game with a game-winning layin with 0.9 seconds left.
DAMIAN LILLARD MAKES A RUN AT MOST VALUABLE PLAYER (cont.)
One week later in Los Angeles, he did it again. Trailing by 11 to the Lakers, Lillard scored 15 consecutive, including four straight three-pointers, to lead the Blazers to a comeback victory. His 19 fourth quarter points capped a 39-point night and left the Staples Center buzzing.
“Damian Lillard,’’ Terry Stotts said afterward, “is special.’’
Lillard said he has yet to reflect on his season, but he knows it was special.
“I felt it,’’ he said. “This year at media day when I spoke to you guys, I mentioned it – that I had made changes this year. I started training earlier this year and I was just focused. I was on schedule on everything – there was a lot of balance, not just as a player but as a person. I was a lot more still. I wasn’t traveling. I was focused on how I can come back a better player. I think it’s shown. I had my best summer since I’ve been in league as far as just preparation for the season and the sacrifices to get myself a chance to have a good season. I think that’s big for me.’’
THE RE-EMERGENCE OF MAURICE HARKLESS
Many factors went into the Trail Blazers’ midseason turnaround, but perhaps none were more emphatic than the return of Maurice Harkless.
A starter for the season’s first 18 games, Harkless lost his starting job in November, then eventually drifted out of the rotation all together. A player who thrives on energy and athleticism, Harkless was passive and disengaged and was headed toward a massively disappointing season.
Then, Evan Turner suffered a calf injury in Boston. Filling in, Harkless went 5-for-5 from three-point range. When Turner was unable to start the next game, Harkless stepped in and never gave up the spot, playing game-changing defense while providing a spark on offense.
THE RE-EMERGENCE OF MAURICE HARKLESS (cont.)
“Mo had one of those years where it was up-and-down for him then he ended up – in my opinion – really changing our season because of what he turned into during that winning streak,’’ Lillard said. “He was the X-factor in a lot of those games.’’
Harkless needed left knee surgery on March 28, forcing him to miss the final nine games, but he is targeted to return in the middle of next week, possibly in time to play in Game 3 or Game 4 of the first round series in New Orleans.
THE RETURN OF ED DAVIS
Ed Davis is proof that value can’t always be measured in statistics.
The Trail Blazers’ reserve center had a massively impactful season with timely rebounds, strong defense and veteran locker room leadership.
It was a reminder of what the Blazers were missing at the end of last season, when Davis had shoulder surgery that limited him to 46 games.
“What we got from Ed this season, that was huge for our team,’’ Lillard said.
THE RETURN OF ED DAVIS (cont.)
While establishing himself as the top reserve center in the league, Davis averaged 5.3 points and 7.4 rebounds in 19 minutes a game. He finished fifth in the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage, 10th in defensive rebounding percentage and sixth overall.
“I thought Ed was a defensive anchor, and one of the reasons why we were able to sustain a high defensive rating throughout the season,’’ coach Terry Stotts said. “And he was a great mentor for Zach (Collins)."