Instant Analysis: It took overtime, but Trail Blazers get first home win of the season

Instant Analysis: It took overtime, but Trail Blazers get first home win of the season

Sunday night was a battle of two injury-riddled teams.

Trail Blazers starting small forward Rodney Hood, who is still dealing with back spasms, is the newest Blazer added to the injured list. Kent Bazemore started in place of Hood.

Vince Carter (personal), John Collins (league suspension), Chandler Parsons (knees) and Evan Turner (Left Achilles) were on the in-active list for the Hawks.

Neither team was able to get out to a big lead all night, but it was the Blazers who got the last word in overtime, earning them their first home victory in four games at Moda Center.

FINAL BOX SCORE: Trail Blazers 124, Hawks 113 (OT)

Here are three quick takeaways from the win from our NBC Sports team at the game:

Dwight Jaynes, Insider

Anferenee Simons had a great game, but we were not really sure why he wasn’t on the floor when the team was trailing and needed some offense... It wasn't until there was 27.9 seconds remaining in the game that we saw Simons for the second to last Blazer possession. 

Mike Richman, Reporter

At this point it does not matter how the Blazers come away with wins. This one was ugly early, but they were good enough in overtime to end their losing streak. Kent Bazemore's two three-pointers to open overtime were the biggest shots of the game, and he made sure to stare down the Atlanta bench to let his former team know about it.

Jamie Hudson, Reporter

This game looked like it was going to be a track meet. The Blazers got out and ran early on. Moda Center fans were happy to see the Blazers get out to a quick start on the scoreboard as well. Portland slowed it down a bit after the first quarter, but it really wasn’t until the third quarter that the Blazers were moving the ball and getting more players involved not named Damian Lillard. Anfernee Simons took over in the third to keep the Blazers close. Portland’s defense in OT made the difference, along with two key three-pointers from Bazemore to start OT and CJ McCollum's play late in the extra period.   

Up Next: The Trail Blazers visit the Sacramento Kings for a 7:00pm tip-off on Tuesday.

Be sure to check back throughout the night and tomorrow morning for analysis, articles, and videos from the players!

Hassan Whiteside playing a NSFW game in the NBA Bubble

Hassan Whiteside playing a NSFW game in the NBA Bubble

"Hello. Do you wanna play a game?"

Those are the creepy words uttered by the sinister Billy the Puppet in the horror movie franchise, Saw.

It's usually at this point in the movie that we see the disturbing life or death trap concocted by the killer known as the Jigsaw.

Sure, we thought this was all just a fictional Halloween movie tradition. However, if you ask Trail Blazers center Hassan Whiteside, Jigsaw's cold hand has found its way into the NBA bubble.

Whiteside posted a video on social media of himself getting ready for an ice bath and needless to say, the big guy isn't a fan.

This s*** like getting in a Jigsaw puzzle. Would you like to play a game. - Hassan Whiteside

Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].

 

Even better than his pre-ice fear, was the reaction once he reluctantly got in - -- That high pitched, "oh, lord!"

Luckily for Rip City and Whiteside, this Jigsaw puzzle wasn't a life or death situation. It was just a quick rehab session. 

Whiteside better stay iced up and keep that body ready, because the Blazers are going to need him this weekend against the Grizzlies. 

Damian Lillard & Carmelo Anthony helping speed up the development of Gary Trent Jr.

Damian Lillard & Carmelo Anthony helping speed up the development of Gary Trent Jr.

With more national attention and more eyeballs on the NBA restart, it’s not just Rip City taking notice of Trail Blazers second-year player Gary Trent Jr.

Over the eight-game span of Portland’s seeding games, Trent Jr. is averaging 16.9 points on 51.6 percent shooting from the field and a whopping 50.7 percent shooting from three-point range.  

The guy was lighting up the scoreboard and making sure the Blazers’ top opponents weren’t lighting them up.

Whether it was Luka Doncic or James Harden, Trent Jr. had a tough task in defending teams' superstars, but he has shown he's up for the challenge.

Earlier this week, Trent Jr. joined former Trail Blazers Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells on their latest ‘Let’s Get Technical’ Podcast.  

Sheed’s introduction of Gary said it all:

Ladies and gentlemen, tonight, it is my esteemed pleasure to introduce my nephew. I remember this young fella when he was born. He used to run around the locker room a lot with all the other kids and the families and now he’s actually playing with the same team that he was running around the locker room, tearing s*** up. So, ladies and gentlemen, will you please put your hands together for my nephew Gary Trent Jr…. A sharpshooter, man. Thanks for joining us, nephew, I appreciate it! -- Former Trail Blazer Rasheed Wallace 

Trent Jr. shared what it's been like as a young player to play alongside Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard.

Just being able to be around him every single day, just the way he carries himself, the way he works --you see it day in and day out. Like you said, he’s been on a tear, but he’s been on a tear all year, like I saw a crazy stat, they said that he is the only player since Wilt Chamberlain to have 60 [points] three times in a season… It’s crazy. He can’t be stopped. He’s locked in. We all locked in… He’s a leader. He’s the heart to the organization. He proves that every night.  -- Gary Trent Jr. on Damian Lillard

Trent Jr. added that guarding Portland's backcourt duo of Lillard and CJ McCollum has also boosted his defensive mindset and ability.  

“Guarding him and CJ McCollum every single day for the last year and a half has made me a better defender,” Trent Jr. explained. 

Remember the game against Houston, Trent Jr. was not backing down from Harden or Russell Westbrook...  

This season, Trent Jr. has discussed at length the admiration and respect that he has for Trail Blazers veteran and future Hall of Famer Carmelo Anthony.

On the 'Let’s Get Technical' Podcast, the 21-year-old described the vibe of the team when they first heard that Melo was coming to Rip City.

“When he was first coming to the team, the whole team was lit. We was excited, like, ‘Oh Melo’s coming to Portland. Melo coming?' So, then when he first got here, he got to playing well, he got his opportunity back and just his presence alone, you could feel it, his understanding of the game… He’s here teaching, he’s here helping, and he’s been playing amazing. He’s been helping us win games. It’s Carmelo Anthony,” Trent Jr. said. 

[Listen to the Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon and special guest Kevin Love]:

And of course, Wallace and Wells showed their love and appreciation for Gary Trent Sr. as well, as they shared a few memories with Trent Jr.

Wallace and Trent Sr. played together for Portland from 1996-98.  

“That’s my man, that’s my best friend, even still to this day.” Sheed said, while Bonzi added, “Excellent player, excellent dude, even better person.”

Wells was curious, though, how Trent Sr. could produce such a finesse guard like Gary Trent Jr.

“He kind of paved the way for guys like myself who came through the mid-major, but Gary Trent Sr. was a powerful player. Where did you get this touch?” Bonzi asked.

Gary answered this question with a smile:

“This is the funniest thing because I tell people this all the time -- he was a big man, he really wasn’t doing too much on the perimeter, don’t get me wrong – he was a good player, but he’s player devolvement was amazing... I say he was a big man who was able to create a guard… It just shows you his understanding of the game -- what you need to, what you need to be, what moves you need to do… All my moves come from him.”

Shout-out to pops! 

Trent Jr.’s moves might come from his father, but we all know that Lillard and Melo have certainly sped up the development process of the young fella.  

Check out the entire Let’s Get Technical podcast with Gary Trent Jr. right here.

Kevin Love likes Portland's chances against the Lakers

Kevin Love likes Portland's chances against the Lakers

The Blazers and Grizzlies will battle it out this weekend in a unique play-in series, to the victor goes the eight seed.

With the eight seed, either Portland or Memphis will get the reward of playing the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

Fans and experts alike have seen Portland as a legit threat to the Lakers, should they make the playoffs, and the odds are in Portland's favor. 

Portland is the current eight seed, meaning they will have to win just one game to advance. Memphis, however, will have to beat Portland twice in consecutive days to leap the Blazers. 

Can it be done? Sure. But it won't be easy.

With the Blazers having the inside track to LeBron and Co, everyone has already started to weigh in on how the Blazers-Lakers playoff series will look. 

Can Portland challenge the King? LeBron James' former teammate Kevin Love thinks so. 

On the latest edition of the Talkin' Blazers Podcast, Love gave hosts Channing Frye and Dan Sheldon his thoughts on the potential Portland - Los Angeles matchup:

They can steal some games, especially with how Dame (Lillard) is playing. We're gonna have to see how CJ (McCollum) responds with his back because I do think they need the second primary scorer. - Kevin Love on potential Blazers - Lakers matchup 

Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon].

 

Frye, who teamed up with Love and James to win a title with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, also sees Portland posing a challenge. 

"If you look at this team now... in the past, you had Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu who were great defenders but were reluctant to shoot the three-ball," said Frye. "Now it's like you double-team Dame, you're throwing it to Nurk (Jusuf Nurkic) who is a very underrated passer. Then he's throwing it to Melo (Carmelo Anthony) on one side, and CJ McCollum and Gary Trent Jr. on that side."

The Blazers have plenty of weapons on the offensive side of the ball, but perhaps the biggest dark horse in a series with the Lakers would be big man Jusuf Nurkic. 
 
Nurkic is one of the best passing big men in the game, and his vision drastically changes the Blazers offense. As Frye said, unlike in years past, the Blazers can put multiple shooters on the floor, and Nurkic will know how to find them. 

Love, a gifted big-man passer in his own right, knows exactly what Nurk can do.

"If they trap that ball screen and you have Nurk making passes on that short roll and you have to slide over and play midway in-between - it's either gonna be Melo or CJ shooting that shot... those guys can heat up and light up really, really fast. Kevin Love on how Nurkic can alter a series with the Lakers. 

It's not only his passing the Blazers will need to take advantage of. They'll need to use his offensive skill in the paint as well. Attack the Lakers bigs with a healthy dose of the Bosnian Beast.

Said Frye, The Blazers are "gonna need to slow the game down and throw it to Nurk, and force-feed that big rhinoceros."

Get Nurk rolling, draw the defense in, let him kick it out to Lillard and watch the three-ball rain!
 
"I do think that Portland has the best chance, going against the Lakers" - Kevin Love.

Trail Blazers vs. Lakers: It's hard not to look ahead

Trail Blazers vs. Lakers: It's hard not to look ahead

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, but... 

The NBA has released the 2019-20 playoffs schedule and even though the Portland Trail Blazers still must either win Saturday vs. the Memphis Grizzlies, or win on Sunday if Memphis can pull out the win Saturday, it’s hard not to at least glance at the Western Conference First Round matchup.

The First Round will tip-off on Tuesday.  

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. Play-in winner of Portland or Memphis (All times are PST):

  • Game 1: Tuesday, 6 p.m.
  • Game 2: Thursday, 6 p.m.
  • Game 3: Aug. 22, 5:30 p.m.
  • Game 4: Aug. 24, 6 p.m.
  • Game 5: Aug. 26, TBD
  • Game 6: Aug. 28, TBD
  • Game 7: Aug. 30, TBD

But first, the Trail Blazers and Grizzlies will battle it out at 11:30a.m. PST Saturday on ABC and then if necessary their second play-in game will be Sunday at 1:30p.m. PST on ESPN.

And hey, the Trail Blazers are heavy favorites to win Saturday’s game, so there’s no harm in looking at the First Round schedule. Right? 

According to Caesars, the Trail Blazers are -6.0 point favorites.

Just as we are looking at the first round schedule, the national pundits are already talking about a potential LeBron James and Damian Lillard series.

FSI’s Chris Broussard said he thinks Portland “has a 10 percent chance of beating the Lakers” in the first round.

The Trail Blazers definitely have the national media members on their side when it comes to Saturday’s play-in game. 

ON FS1’s Undisputed Friday, Shannon Sharpe gave his thoughts on Saturday’s matchup between the Blazers and Grizzlies:

The way Dame is playing… It’s going to take a herculean effort [from Memphis] and Ja [Morant] hasn’t shot the ball well the last three games. – Shannon Sharpe on Undisputed

While Skip Bayless mentioned that Grizzlies Ja Morant is not ready to outplay Lillard in a play-in game.

[RELATED]: Skip Bayless refuses to give Damian Lillard credit where credit is due

And just a friendly reminder, Lillard is averaging 51.3 points and 9.0 assists in his last three games.

Morant is averaging 19.0 points and 9.9 assists in the NBA restart.

[Listen to the Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon and special guest Kevin Love]:

Only thing more effective than Trail Blazers offense is their opponents' offense

Only thing more effective than Trail Blazers offense is their opponents' offense

The Trail Blazers have played some very good offense during their eight seeding games in Orlando.

Portland has shot 47.8 percent from the field over an eight-game stretch and that includes a terrific 41.4 percent from three-point range.

But to survive, the Blazers have had to shoot that well because the only thing more spectacular than their offense has been the offense of their opponents.

In the last eight games, the teams playing Portland have made 49.4 percent of their shots, including 43.3 percent of their threes.

Their defense has been worse than their offense has been good.

And how would the Trail Blazers realistically expect to advance in the playoffs while playing defense that is that ineffective?

It would be impossible.

Portland should be able to get past Memphis in the play-in series -- which is heavily weighted toward the Trail Blazers, who need to win one game before the Grizzlies beat them twice. But with that defense, nothing can be taken for granted. This has to somehow improve.

Portland has played two respectable defensive games in the bubble and one of them was against Memphis in the opener, a game the Trail Blazers spent several days preparing for.

The other good defensive effort was vs. Houston, which Portland has had good success defending in three straight games this season.

The common thread in those games is preparation -- and being able to gear a defensive game plan around stopping one player, Ja Morant for Memphis and James Harden for the Rockets,

I liked the Trail Blazer approach vs. Harden all season. Portland mixed up the defenders on him and mixed the nature of the defense, too, The Trail Blazers tried to deny Harden the ball, were aggressive on the ball when he had it, got him to give it up with double-teams and traps and played some zone defense.

I believe that sort of defensive approach gives Portland its best chance of winning, because it puts the Blazer defenders into an aggressive, attacking mode. Change the pick-and-roll coverages during games, double-team hot shooters or overplay them once in a while, mix in an aggressive zone -- anything that makes an offense hesitate or deliberate before it attacks.

Yes, they will give up some open threes playing that way. But they give up open threes in bunches all the time with their usual defense.

Things must change at the defensive end, like it or not. What's going on now isn't working. As much as anything, they have been lucky down this stretch of games that opponents have missed open shots and Damian Lillard, a basketball Superman in the bubble, has made difficult, often contested, shots.

In the Brooklyn game Thursday night, the Nets could have ended Portland’s season with a clear jumper from 22 feet, which missed.

But praying teams will miss open shots is no way to play defense. And no way to win playoff games.

Jusuf Nurkic emotional in win over Nets, finds some closure from leg injury

Jusuf Nurkic emotional in win over Nets, finds some closure from leg injury

The Trail Blazers 2019-20 season was on the line Thursday night.

And it all came down to the final shot.

Fortunately for Portland, Brooklyn’s Caris LeVert, who had already scored 37 points on 16-for-29 shooting, dribbled the clock down in the fourth quarter with the Nets trailing by one, but his jumper clanked off the back of the rim. Carmelo Anthony secured the rebound. 

And with that the Blazers won 134-133.  

That was a crazy finish, to say the least.

But before Portland’s season literally hung in the air in Orlando -- there were bodies flying.

To say the Trail Blazers left it all out on the floor seems like an understatement.

Portland’s dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic rose to the occasion; or dove to the occasion, in this case.  

[RELATED]: Trail Blazers clinch 8-seed, advance to play-in games vs. Memphis Grizzlies 

It was obvious watching their effort in the fourth quarter, that they were not ready to go home.

The Trail Blazers were a big fan of Nurkic sacrificing his body in crunch time, just as Nurkic is a “big fan” of being in Orlando.

His postgame hashtag confirmed it. 

There were two specific plays that Blazers head coach Terry Stotts pointed to as key possessions for his team Thursday. And one of them was Nurkic sprawling out on the floor, with 1:28 to go in the game, to save the ball from spinning out of bounds on the baseline after a bad pass by Joe Harris down low.

That extra effort was on display in the Blazers’ locker room postgame. 

The two things we showed in the locker room after the game was Nurk diving on the floor under two minutes, Dame diving on the floor and those are the things that we have to do to win games… and those two plays made the difference. -- Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts

Nurkic at 7’0” and 290 pounds plummeted to the floor to give the Blazers an extra possession and to prove once again that he wants to continue to play the game he loves – the game that was taken away from him following his gruesome leg injury in March of 2019 against who else, but the Brooklyn Nets.

Facing the team that ran away from Nurkic once they witnessed the status of his broken left leg in the game on Mar. 25, 2019, meant Thursday’s win wasn’t just a relief to move on and secure a play-in spot, it also took its toll on Nurk’s psyche.    

This game might be a little bit emotional for me because I got hurt against them at Moda. But, like I said... LaVert is a great player, had a great game. I think we get the best of him tonight. Give them credit, what they did, what they tried to did. But, I think we did a hell of a job to win the game… Obviously, we couldn’t get rebounds [in the] last couple of possessions, but, like I said – it wasn’t meant to be for them. We got a win, that’s all that matters. -- Trail Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic

It closed the loop.

Nurkic also described the play of him diving on the ground for the steal from Harris, saying, “whatever it takes,” which has also been Damian Lillard’s motto through all eight of these seeding games.

[RELATED]: Unstoppable Damian Lillard provokes NSFW reaction from Nets Joe Harris 

It was with 1:12 remaining in the game when Lillard sacrificed his body, hitting the deck and snatching the ball from LeVert which led to the go-ahead 21-foot pull-up jumper from CJ McCollum to put the Blazers up 134-130.

[Listen to the Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon and special guest Kevin Love].

The bottom line is, the Blazers came up with stops when they absolutely needed them Thursday night. 

Portland’s defense has been suspect in the NBA restart; however, the Blazers’ team captain explained how coming up with timely stops meant easier buckets down the stretch.

“Once we got those stops, we was able to get to the rim, get fouled, get a few easier looks and then get ourselves back into the game, and then I think once we cut it to like, four, and we settled in, we got a stop and they were being aggressive and I just, I felt the guy chasing me over the screen and I just rose up and we got the three free throws… Once we got to that point, I was like – now it’s just a matter of who is gonna make the big plays down the stretch, who is going to do just a little bit more, and who wants it more, we was able to do that,” Lillard said.

Lillard once again led the charge Thursday night. He made 13-of-22 shots, including 8-of-14 from deep, to finish with 42 points. He also dished out 12 assists.

As for Nurkic, he finished with 22 points on 11-of-17 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds and three rebounds in 33 minutes of action.

Heading into the final seeding game, Nurkic was averaging 17.0 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 41 assists in 31.4 minutes of work.

That's a lot of minutes for a big fella just returning from a big injury. 

Nurkic mentioned after the win that he has been surprised at how good his conditioning has been in the seeding games after not having played in a game for more than 14 months.

“My shape – I was surprised by the way I was playing. My shape is surprisingly good enough to play those minutes,” Nurkic said.

Now as the No. 8 seeded Blazers prepare for Saturday's play-in game against No. 9 seed Memphis Grizzlies, the Blazers are making sure to get in some recovery time. 

“Trying get a cold tub right now," Nurkic joked. "Have ice all over me. Try to get rest as I can, that’s all I can do, right?” 

Yep, bring on the ice and then... Bring on, the Grizzlies.

Trail Blazers chaotic, magical run follows a familiar gut wrenching script

Trail Blazers chaotic, magical run follows a familiar gut wrenching script

This is starting to get eerily familiar.

The Trail Blazers won a game that came down to the wire on Thursday night. It followed a script Portland fans are all too used to seeing.

Damian Lillard continued an historic run, the Blazers defense continued to let opponents score at will, and when the buzzer sounded Portland had punched its ticket to the weekend’s play-in round. 

“When you come into the bubble, it’s March Madness now,” Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic said.

Madness might be the best word for it. The Blazers have played three straight nearly identical games to get to this point. It doesn’t seem to matter who the opponent is, they are nearly certain to light up the scoreboard against this Portland team. Whether it was Sunday with Josh Richardson and Alec Burks leading a shorthanded Philadelphia team or Tuesday with Kristaps Prozingis and Luka Doncic steering the league’s best offense, or Thursday against a spackled together Brooklyn Nets, anyone facing the Blazers is going to get buckets.

[RELATED: Why the Blazers will look back & “appreciate the grind” of seeding games]

And anyone trying to stop the Blazers on the other end is going to have to deal with Lillard who is in the midst of a magical run, a perfect confluence of determination and otherworldly shooting. The Blazers point guard had 51 against Philadelphia on Sunday and followed that with 61 against Dallas before torching Brooklyn on Thursday. He finished with 42 points on 13-for-22 shooting to go along with 12 assists and just one turnover in 44 sterling minutes against the Nets.

These games have all been frantic and seem to end with Lillard rescuing the Blazers in a simultaneously unbelievable but inevitable fashion. After the game the Blazers looked gassed. Lillard put his hands on his knees in exhaustion, CJ McCollum could barely catch his breath for his postgame interview and when Nurkic met with the media his 7-foot frame was draped with ice. But beyond the obvious physical rigors of playing two weeks full of must-win games that all seemed to come down to crunch time, there has to be a mental toll exacted from this Blazers run.

But like a pull-up three from a step inside halfcourt, Lillard isn’t too worried.

“I think mentally I’ll be fine,” Lillard said when asked to think ahead to a possible playoff series beginning Tuesday. “I think physically there’s going to be some fatigue there, but I think it won’t be as hard as you might think because there’s a lot riding on these games. It’s almost like every game that we’ve been playing the last three, four games has been like our season is on the line. So once you get to the playoffs obviously the urgency or the care is going to be there but you’re not going into it like ‘Alright if we lose this Game 1 we’re going home.’ So I think it will be a little better.”

[RELATED: Everything you need to know about Trail Blazers play-in game(s) vs. Memphis Grizzlies]

Portland’s reward for making this far is likely more of what we’ve seen from them over the last two weeks. They get a chance to officially make the playoffs in the play-in round against Memphis over the weekend, needing one win in two possible games against the Grizzlies to earn the eighth seed.

So much has changed since these two teams met to open the Orlando restart schedule two weeks ago. But expecting anything to be truly different would be denying what you have seen from the Blazers in Disney World.

You already know the script. Lillard will be awesome. The Blazers defense won’t. And the game  -- or games -- will come down to the wire. If you try hard enough, perhaps you’ll find comfort in the Blazers’ predictable brand of chaos. We’ve seen this one before.

Why the Blazers will look back & “appreciate the grind” of seeding games

Why the Blazers will look back & “appreciate the grind” of seeding games

All Damian Lillard wanted was a shot. 

Not his ‘layup’ from the logo, but rather a shot at the playoffs.

The Trail Blazers point guard said on his birthday, which happened after the Blazers arrival in the bubble, "Let's not waste our f-ing time." 

The NBA restart gave the Portland Trail Blazers eight games to force a play-in for that final spot in the Western Conference playoffs and the Blazers have done just that.

They haven't wasted their time in the bubble.

And after another heart attack finish Thursday night, Rip City is trying to wrap its head around what’s with all these close games? The Blazers have managed to pull out wins and each of the eight games were decided by single digits.

[Listen to the Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon and special guest Kevin Love].

As much as it is stressful to watch back home, it’s equally as nailbiting on the court in Orlando.

‘Big Z’ Zach Collins joined our Blazers Outsiders crew of Joe Simons and Danny Marang after Portland’s one-point victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, explaining that these close games will only benefit Portland in the long run.

Frustrating, stressful, annoying, all those things but we put ourselves in a position to win every game here and that’s the thing you got to take away. Every game, we were winning and had to hold onto a lead and there were a lot of games where we weren’t winning and had to fight back into it. You can look at that as a negative or you can look at that’s getting us ready for what playoffs are going to be. 

I think when we get this next win and when we get to the playoffs, I think we’re going to look back and appreciate the grind that these eight games were. — Zach Collins

It has been a grind indeed. Nothing has come easy for the Trail Blazers during this restart. Portland has had to claw its way through third quarter slump after third quarter slump; CJ McCollum is battling through a fracture in his back; Dame is averaging nearly 40 minutes per game; it is exhausting. 

Lillard said it clearly after the game on Thursday: ‘I’m tired.”

But the benefit to games like these are they feel a lot like playoff games and playoff games are often played down to the wire. Should the Trail Blazers win on Saturday and advance to the playoffs, they have that added experience of winning in tight games. 

We’re obviously just very happy that the eight games are behind us and now we just got to win one more to get there. — Zach Collins 

[RELATED]: Everything you need to know about Trail Blazers play-in game(s) vs. Memphis Grizzlies

Game 1: Saturday, August 15 at 11:30 a.m. PT
Game 2 (if necessary): Sunday, August 16 at 1:30 p.m. PT

The winner of the play-in gets the reward, if it can be called that, of playing the No.1 Los Angeles Lakers. 

Trail Blazers' season came down to one shot and, lucky for them, it missed

Trail Blazers' season came down to one shot and, lucky for them, it missed

All the games prior to the break, all the weeks of the hiatus, all the scrimmages and then the games in the NBA bubble -- and the Trail Blazers’ season Thursday night came down to just one shot.

And this time it wasn’t even a shot by a Portland player.

Brooklyn’s Caris Levert, who had already scored 37 points on 16-for-29 shooting, played the clock down in the fourth quarter with his Nets trailing by a single point.

He was closely guarded by CJ McCollum but got some space with a step-back move and lofted an arching jump shot from near the top of the key as the game clock neared :00.

The city of Portland held its breath.

If the ball goes in, the Trail Blazers’ season is over. Finished. Done. If it misses, the team moves on to a play-in series against Memphis, in which the Grizzlies must defeat the Trail Blazers twice before Portland wins once. One win from a playoff berth.

“I was tired,” Damian Lillard said. “I had played the whole second half. I was just like, ‘Please miss. Please get the rebound and let’s end this game.’”

It did miss. And when Carmelo Anthony grabbed the rebound and hugged it, the game was over, a 134-133 win.

Asked what that moment felt like, Coach Terry Stotts played the levity card.

“Trust in our defense,” Stotts said. And when that was met with deserved silence, he pulled his COVID-19 mask down, revealing a big smile and added, “I’m smiling.

“Honestly, we played good defense down the stretch. We just couldn’t get a rebound. We forced them into some tough shots but that’s how it is. I’m glad we got the stop when we needed it.”

Jokes aside, the Trail Blazers’ defense didn’t make the trip to Florida with the team. Stotts’ team survived another tightrope walk to the finish line and ended the seeding portion of its schedule with a 6-2 record.

Of course, just like those other wins, Lillard played a starring role.

He made 13 of 22 shots, including 8-14 from three-point range, scored 42 points and handed out 12 assists. His three-point shooting was critical, since his teammates went a combined 5-25 from three on a night when a Brooklyn zone defense left guys not named Lillard wide open for threes, many of them even being the easier variety, from the corner.

The Nets’ plan was to take the ball out of Lillard’s hands as much as possible with traps and double-teams. And they were able to do that often.

But Lillard was still able to wear them out with his scoring and passing.

Brooklyn, meanwhile, was hitting at 55.2 percent overall and 42.4 percent from three. And if that wasn’t enough to do in Portland, the Nets worked the offensive boards to death in the fourth quarter.

Brooklyn got seven of its 14 offensive rebounds in the final period and turned them into seven points.

Portland got a big game from CJ McCollum alongside Lillard. McCollum, dealing with a broken bone in his back, scored 25 points and had seven assists.

Jusuf Nurkic, fighting off foul trouble, finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds and Hassan Whiteside was solid off the bench with 16 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.

But still, this was a Damian Lillard game.

Again.

And just one more team -- the Grizzlies -- stands in the way of a Portland playoff appearance. And perhaps one more tightrope walk to the end of a game.