The Trail Blazers celebrated their 50th win Wednesday night in Moda Center, sending the outmanned Memphis Grizzlies packing with a 115-89 thrashing that saw the Grizz get just 10 points in the third quarter and 30 in the entire second half.
The Blazers have won eight of their last 10 but the next two games promise to be much more of a test.
Portland meets the Western Conference’s second-place team, the Denver Nuggets, in back-to-back games – Friday on the road and Sunday in Moda Center. The Blazers sit two games behind the Nuggets for the No. 2 spot. How does Damian Lillard see those games?
“Both winnable,” Lillard said. “We can get both of them. Late in the season, nobody’s 100 percent. Everybody’s worn a little bit. But it’s a fight. We’re trying to fight for the position that we want, and that’s homecourt.
“These two games would be huge for us. Both are games that we can win.”
Win them both and…
“Number two,” he said. “It’s great. I think homecourt is homecourt but at that point it turns into a matchup thing. Just want to make sure we get homecourt.”
The 50th win meant a lot to the Blazers.
“I told the team 50 wins has always been a benchmark in this league,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “If you’re a 50-win team, I think that really speaks a lot about what you’ve done in the regular season and the success you’ve had in the regular season. I think we should all be very proud of what we’ve done so far this year. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us but you need to celebrate moments like this.”
“Great feeling,” he said. “I think it says something about our toughness and how resilient we are as a group, coming in and having 49 wins last year, falling short in the playoffs and then being able to come back and have a better season this year so far. I think that says a lot about our character.”
And the last few weeks haven’t been easy, with CJ McCollum out with a knee injury and Jusuf Nurkic sidelined by a broken leg.
The Grizzlies, by the way, played without eight of their top nine rotation players Wednesday. Memphis knocked Portland off stride with a zone defense in the first half and the Blazers trailed by 10 on a couple of occasions before rallying back.
Evan Turner’s second straight triple-double off the bench got the most attention (he’s the first NBA player ever to do that in a non-starting role) but Lillard was very solid with 20 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds.
Portland won the rebound battle a whopping 54-32 and had 68 points in the paint. Zach Collins had a career-high 18 points on 7-10 shooting.
Enes Kanter had his way with the smaller Memphis players around the basket and came away with 21 points and 15 rebounds in just 25:38.
It turned into a pretty easy night for the Trail Blazers. But Friday night in Denver, at altitude, in a game not scheduled to start until 8:30 local time against a very good team, is likely going to be quite different.
“It will be competitive,” Stotts promised.