The Portland Trail Blazers went into the All-Star Break with a lot more confidence than if it had started on Sunday. The team went into Wednesday’s match-up with the defending champion Golden State Warriors coming off of an embarrassing 19-point blowout against the Utah Jazz. The team looked like it was giving almost no effort out there. Portland would need to bring so much more if it wanted any chance against Golden State.
Whether the game ends in a win or lose, the Warriors always seem to bring out the best in Damian Lillard. This ended up being crucial in their nationally televised match-up on Wednesday night.
The Blazers jumped out to a big lead early, going up by as many as 20 points late in the first quarter. Unfortunately for Portland, hardly anyone can keep Golden State down for long. While the Warriors never took the lead again, all but two minutes of the second half was played within single digits.
Most of Golden State’s stars had an off night, with the exception of Kevin Durant. Durant scored the most points he had in a Golden State uniform with 50 points. Lillard was able to continue the hot scoring streak he’s been on, countering Durant’s big night with 44 points of his own. C.J. McCollum added 29 points as well. This led to a heart-pounding 123-117 win for the Blazers. Portland went into the All-Star Break about the best way it possibly could. Closing out the defending champions is all a team with questions about its play down the stretch could ask for.
Lillard’s All-Star Weekend
Lillard was the lone Blazer to make the All-Star team. It was his first appearance since the 2014-15 season. He has felt that during the last two seasons he’s been snubbed from making the roster. Because of this, Lillard took it upon himself to show that he belonged with the NBA’s top stars.
Lillard represented Team Stephen during the All-Star game as a reserve, and he made the most of the minutes he received. While Team Stephen lost to Team LeBron 148-145, Lillard had a great game. He tied DeMar DeRozan for a team-high 21 points in 21 minutes.
Through a large portion of the fan voting, Lillard even received one of the official votes for All-Star Game MVP. He was the only player other than LeBron James to receive one of the votes. Lillard came out after his two-year hiatus to prove that he belonged, and he was able to do just that.
The rest of the Blazers’ season
Portland currently stands at 32-26, tied with the Denver Nuggets for sixth in the Western Conference. There is only a 3.5-game difference between the third seed in the West and the ninth seed. By the end of the season, Portland conceivably has a chance of going into the first round with home-court advantage, and could almost just as easily miss the playoffs.
It looks like things are shaping up to being one of the tightest playoff races in recent memory. With 24 games remaining, Portland also has one of the most difficult schedules in the league. There’s a real chance that many of Portland’s final games will have serious playoff implications.
Making the playoffs will be difficult, but Portland also has to hope that it doesn’t land in either the seventh or eighth seed. The 2017 playoffs ended in a quick sweep from the Warriors, and Portland would like to avoid a repeat of that, or a first round exit from the Houston Rockets.