It’s getting tough to question the legitimacy of the Portland Trail Blazers‘ spot as a real player in the Western Conference. It’s obvious the team is a tier below that of the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors, but no other team in the conference has a clear edge on the Blazers.
Portland is playing its best basketball of the season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The team took care of business against a team it needed to when it dominated the Sacramento Kings 116-99 last Tuesday. The real story of last week, however, came against two division rivals in the playoff race.
Portland battles back against Minnesota
The Blazers hosted the Minnesota Timberwolves on a nationally televised Thursday night match-up. Going into the game, Portland trailed 2-1 in the season series, so the game had some potential tie-breaker implications.
For most of the game, it looked like that Blazers were coming out flat. Minnesota took the lead midway through the first quarter, and showed no sign of relinquishing it when it took a 10-point lead with a minute left in the third quarter. It wasn’t until the Blazers went on a quick 7-0 nothing run that it became a game for the fourth quarter.
Portland had a perfect fourth quarter for a team looking to gain ground in the playoff race. This game was treated like a playoff game, and it felt like one. Portland outscored Minnesota 33-21 in the final frame, led by Damian Lillard scoring 13 of his game-high 35 points. The win gave Portland the number three seed in the West via tie-breakers.
Portland clinches season series over OKC
The Blazers had another division match-up against a playoff contender in the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday. Portland had won the previous two games between the squads, but playing the reigning MVP Russell Westbrook is no easy feat. Both teams are equally desperate for good playoff seeding, so each would be giving its best effort.
The game remained in single digits for three quarter. Portland was in the lead for the majority of that time, but the game featured 18 lead changes. The Blazers had no intention of choking an important game away.
Even though Oklahoma City cut the lead to three at one point, Portland led for the entire fourth quarter. No matter what the Thunder did, the Blazers always seemed to have an answer. Portland ended up winning 108-100 and clinched the season series against the Thunder with one game remaining.
Collins scored 12 points and pulled down five rebounds in 28 minutes. This doesn’t particularly stand out, but his impact showed up on the stat sheet. Collins was relied upon to play strong interior defense for most of the second half, and he delivered. The young big man out of Gonzaga started to show glimpses of why Portland drafted him with the 10th overall pick. The victory gave Portland sole possession of the third seed in the West.
Portland extinguishes Lakers’ hot streak
Portland’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday didn’t have the same playoff implications that the previous two had, but it was a battle of two of the hotter teams in the league. Portland went into the game riding a six-game winning streak, and the Lakers had won their previous five.
The first half was a back and forth game as advertised. Portland controlled the lead for most of the half, but Los Angeles kept it close the entire time. Portland went into the half holding a narrow 58-55 lead.
The third quarter was entirely controlled by the Lakers. Portland looked like it did early in the season when it somehow forgot how to score in the third quarter. The Blazers were held to only 15 points in the third quarter, and things were looking grim for the winning streak.
Portland stayed true to form for the season in the fourth quarter in refusing to give up. Despite being down by double-digits with just over five minutes to play, the Blazers weren’t out of this. Lillard continued his incredible fourth quarter play this season. He scored 19 of his game-high 39 points in the final quarter. This included a three-minute stretch where he scored 15 straight points for the Blazers. The onslaught was too much for the Lakers, and Portland went on to win 108-103, extending its win streak to seven games.
Portland’s playoff race continues, but the schedule gets tougher from here. After hosting the New York Knicks on Tuesday, the team plays the Golden State Warriors on Friday. What’s lucky for Portland is that the game against the Knicks is the first of a five-game home stand. Portland has been extremely tough to beat at home, so this will hopefully be a time to add to the win column.