Just two days after beating the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Portland Trail Blazers had to basically repeat themselves against the New Orleans Pelicans. The team had to win another tough game with huge playoff implications on the road. With potentially its narrow lead in the third seed on the line, Portland needed to come out swinging.
The Blazers ended up winning a back and forth contest, despite some last minute scares. Anthony Davis dominated in his usual fashion with 36 points, 14 rebounds, and six blocks on a tweaked ankle. A missed dunk by Pat Connaughton gave the Pelicans a couple attempts to take the lead in the closing seconds. Damian Lillard countered Davis’ monster performance with his own 41 points, nine rebounds, and six assists. At this point in the season, any win against another team in the Western Conference playoff hunt seems to have twice the impact. Lillard was unable to celebrate the victory for long, however. An event in his personal life sent him flying back to Portland.
Baby Dame D.O.L.L.A. Here
Lillard and his girlfriend welcomed their first child, Damian Jr. into the world on Thursday. He said that waiting on his son had been putting some stress on him over the last few weeks, so that should be some weight off of his shoulders. Lillard appears to be embracing fatherhood well, posting several photos on his Instagram related to his son. Fans are excited for Lillard Jr. to suit up in Blazers gear in 2037.
Being present for the birth caused Lillard to miss the team’s back-to-back on Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies. As one of the NBA’s worst teams, it was thought that Portland would be able to handle itself against an inferior squad. Sadly for Portland, this thought turned out to be mistaken.
For whatever reason, on Wednesday, the Grizzlies didn’t feel like tanking. Led by 14 fourth-quarter points from MarShon Brooks, Memphis slowly whittled down on Portland’s lead. C.J. McCollum led the Blazers with 42 points, but a lack of contribution from the other starters led to Portland’s downfall. Memphis eventually rattled back in a shocking 108-103 victory, sending Portland back home 2-1 on a road trip it should have finished undefeated.
Lillard returns for two easy wins
Lillard made his return to the team for its match-up against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday. The Clippers are far behind Portland in the standings. Of course, another team in the playoff hunt would likely give the Blazers all it has.
A combination of stellar offense and defense made the difference for Portland that night. On the offensive end, Portland had five players score in double-figures. This included a career-high 15 points from rookie Zach Collins. Jusuf Nurkić led the team in scoring with 21 points. On defense, Portland held the Clippers to just 40 percent from the field. The Clippers shot themselves in the foot by only shooting 57 percent from the free throw line. Portland was able to cruise to a 105-96 win that was more lopsided than the final score showed.
The only down side for Portland was that backup center Ed Davis went down with a sprained ankle and would be out for 1-2 weeks. Davis is the second Portland role player to go down with an injury right before the playoffs start, with Maurice Harkless missing time after minor knee surgery.
Portland was also able to get revenge against the Grizzlies with a 113-98 win at home. It was clear Portland had no plans of repeating last Wednesday’s fiasco when it scored 43 points in the third quarter to take a commanding 98-75 lead going into the fourth. The Blazers were able to coast to the finish line of this one.
Lillard wins player of the week honors.
It was announced on Monday that Lillard won Western Conference Player of the Week for the third time this season. Given some of his dominant lines, and the fact the Portland’s only loss of the week was a game he didn’t play, it seems the award is well-deserved.
With the Minnesota Timberwolves‘ loss earlier on Sunday, Portland clinched the playoffs for the fifth year in a row. Portland has a three-game lead on the third seed. The team is only a couple wins away from locking the spot up. Home court advantage would be huge for this team, given how tough an arena the Moda Center is to play in.
The Blazers close out the season with four straight road games, including all three Texas teams. After a trip that is almost impossible to escape from unscathed, Portland will return home to face the Utah Jazz, a possible first round opponent, for its final game of the regular season.