The Portland Trail Blazers have gotten used to battling adversity and overcoming it.
After playing a good chunk of the First Half of the 2020-21 NBA season with a revolving door lineup due to injuries of CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Harry Giles, and others, Portland is 21-14.
It is the franchise’s best record since the 2014-15 season when the Trail Blazers finished the season 51-31, and fourth in the West, but it hasn’t been easy.
There have been ebbs and flows, days of doubt, but more often than not, Portland remained focused on pushing forward and getting stronger. Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts couldn’t be prouder of his team countering adversity with resilience.
“I think we’re pleased that we’re 21-14 going into the break,” Stotts said Thursday after Portland’s hard-fought 123-119 win over Sacramento. “We took care of business at home. You got to wade through it. You know, losing four in a row was tough, we played some good teams on the road and we came home and took care of business, and that’s what you got to do in this league. I liked our mindset these last three games going into the break.
It’s a remarkable feat for a shorthanded Portland squad that has had enough season-altering injuries to shake even the strongest teams at their core.
McCollum looked like an All-Star before injuring his foot against the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 16. Nurkic went down just two days earlier when he suffered a wrist injury against the Indiana Pacers that required surgery.
Despite their absence, the Blazers have not only survived, but thrived as one of the NBA’s elite in large part due to the play of Damian Lillard. The six-time NBA All-Star is averaging 29.8 points per game and dishing out eight assists for Portland heading into the break.
“When CJ and Nurk went down, we just said let’s not feel bad for ourselves like I’ve been saying the whole time, let’s not make excuses,” Lillard said. “Let’s show up and let’s get the job done. Let’s come together, let’s lean on each other, count on each other and find a way to get it done. And we did that.
“21-14 going into the break, I don’t think anybody will complain about it. … I think we had a really, really solid first half to the season and we got to make sure that when we get back to closer to full strength with CJ and Nurk that we don’t welcome them back and think it’s going to be easy all the sudden. We got to continue to be focused like we have been, trust each other and continue to have the same energy and focus that we’ve had...
Dame hasn’t carried Portland alone—it’s taken a village. It’s taken Enes Kanter’s career-high 11.9 rebounds per game, it’s taken Derrick Jones’ lockdown defense, it’s taken Robert Covington excelling on both ends of the floor, it’s taken Carmelo Anthony’s fourth quarter magic, and it’s taken a supporting cast of others like Gary Trent Jr., Rodney Hood and Nassir Little.
Portland is riding a three-game winning streak into the All-Star break and their confidence will soon be at an all-time high. With McCollum cleared for practice and Nurkic progressing, Kanter knows just how dangerous this Trail Blazers team can be in the Second Half of the season.
“I think once we are all healthy, we’re going to be a very, very scary team and we’re going to go out there and bruise people.”