This season isn’t going to end the way the Trail Blazers -- or their fans -- wanted it to end.
But that shouldn’t diminish what the team -- its roster decimated by injuries from start to finish -- accomplished this season.
Quite honestly, I thought it was very impressive that Damian Lillard and his teammates went to Orlando with the goal of making the playoffs. Just setting and stating that goal was powerful. But come on, did you really think they had a great chance of pulling it off?
As soon as I saw the schedule for the seeding games, I thought the deck was stacked against them. I thought there was very little chance they could win enough games to stay in touch with Memphis, let alone steal the No. 8 seed and grab the advantage in the play-in series.
Portland went 7-2 just to get into the playoffs -- with a killer schedule and playing every other day, aside from one back-to-back.
It was a remarkable accomplishment that should serve as testimony to the character and integrity of the team and its coaching staff.
On top of that, the Trail Blazers jumped out and captured Game 1 of the series against a team that is expected to reach the NBA Finals. I do not believe it was a coincidence that the victory came after the only two-day break the team had between any of its games in Orlando.
After that game, several factors took hold.
The Lakers are loaded. They have two of the top five players in the game. And the Trail Blazers woke them up with that win in the opener of the series.
Portland is still without so many key players. Zach Collins, Trevor Ariza and Rodney Hood all could have been difference makers in the series. And their presence would have provided the depth Portland sorely needed as the games began to pile up.
Totally healthy, I think Portland could have been a handful for the Lakers.
And even though the players won’t admit to it, I believe the mental and physical fatigue of just getting to the playoffs left them weakened,
But with all that said, the Portland Trail Blazers have one more game to play and I’m pretty sure they will play it as hard as they can.
And as I think about Game 5 of the series tonight, I realize it may be the last Trail Blazer game we’re going to see for quite a while. I have no idea when next season will begin, but it should be far enough away for injuries to heal and the roster to be loaded.
But tonight, with Lillard on the sidelines nursing a knee sprain, will be a chance to look at the team’s future. I’m pretty sure Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons will play more than they have been previously used. Probably Wenyen Gabriel will get some action, too.
And in the NBA, you never know. We’ve seen teams without their stars pull off amazing wins.
Will that happen? Don’t ask me -- I didn’t think this team would get this far in the first place.