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.
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.”
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.