What to keep your eye on from the Trail Blazers out of the All-Star break
The playoff push begins and Jason has 3 questions for this team...
As the Trail Blazers reconvened from the All-Star Break, Damian Lillard on Thursday said the season’s final stretch is filled with possibilities.
“Lot of things are possible for us,’’ Lillard said. “Good and bad.’’
The good? The Blazers (32-26) are 2.5 games behind Minnesota and San Antonio, who are tied for the third and fourth spots, positions that carry homecourt advantage in the playoffs.
The bad? Portland is one game from falling out of the top eight playoff spots, which would end a run of four consecutive playoff appearances.
So when the team embarks on its crucial 24-game stretch beginning Friday in Utah, here are three storylines to keep an eye on which could determine whether the Blazers’ possibilities end up being good, or bad.
1. Which Jusuf Nurkic will show up?
The Blazers’ center has been hit-and-miss this season, some nights looking like a dominant force and other nights looking either sloppy or disengaged.
Which Nurkic shows up during this stretch run will likely determine how high, or low, the Blazers finish.
It was around this time last season when the Blazers’ center became a sensation and helped carry Portland into the playoffs. During the height of “Nurkic Fever,” it seemed the bigger the game, the bigger he would play, which is a good sign for a Blazers team that will face a daunting schedule.
2. Can Portland beat the good teams?
The Blazers are 13-21 against teams that today have a winning record, and 19-5 against teams with losing records.
In their final 24 games, the Blazers face 16 teams with winning records and eight with losing records. If they continue on the same winning pace against winning and losing teams, they will pick up 12 more wins, giving them 44 for the season.
A final record with 44 wins is likely enough to make the playoffs, but not likely to assure homecourt advantage, which is one of the team’s goals. So in order to make their late-season move, Portland will have to start beating good teams more often.
A good place to start will be during a pivotal March stretch when the Blazers play host to Minnesota, Oklahoma City, Golden State, Miami, Cleveland, Houston, Boston and the Clippers.
3. How much weight can Damian Lillard carry?
Throughout every playoff push the past four seasons, Lillard has been phenomenal, almost willing the team into the postseason with clutch, consistent and sometimes heroic play.
Can he do it again?
Amid a roster that has had trouble being consistent this season, Lillard has been his steady self … and more. Lillard is having the best season of his six-year NBA career, and is currently on his hottest scoring streak, amassing 133 points over his last three games, the most in franchise history over a three-game span. He is also the first player in the NBA this season to score at least 39 points in three consecutive games. (1/2)
How much weight can Damian Lillard carry? (Part 2)
Each season, he comes up with something special: last season, he all but secured the Blazers’ playoff clinch with a franchise-record 59-point game against Utah in April. The year before, he started a crucial six-game trip in March by erupting for 12 or more points in the first quarter of the first three games.
And three seasons ago, after a late-season loss at Dallas that dropped the Blazers to 36-35, he scoffed at the daunting road ahead.
“You really think I’m going to let this team not make the playoffs?’’ he huffed as he left the arena.
The Blazers went 8-3 the rest of the way and finished with the No. 5 seed.