The Houston Rockets might be the best in the West, but Damian Lillard has been a fringe MVP candidate, leading his Portland team to its current position at the three seed. The Blazers, like the Rockets, have been playing off the charts in recent weeks, and currently possess an eight game win-streak of their own.
Capitalizing on a Tight Western Race
The Blazers are capitalizing on a tight Western Conference race in which seeds 3-8 are separated by a mere 3.5 games. Their streak started on Valentine’s Day, with a 123-117 victory over the reigning NBA Champion, Golden State Warriors. Lillard matched Kevin Durant’s 50-point outburst with a 44 point, 8 assist outing, shooting 56% from the field.
Fresh off the All-Star break, Portland snapped the eleven game win-streak of the Utah Jazz, downing star rookie Donovan Mitchell and company 100-81 on Feb. 23rd. Other impressive wins during the streak include home victories over Oklahoma City and Minnesota.
Oklahoma City’s big three has underperformed this season and their expectations of being the third best team in the West have been missed. The San Antonio Spurs are in uncharted territory, playing for their playoff lives due to the absence of two-way superstar, Kawhi Leonard. Injuries to Demarcus Cousins and Jimmy Butler have also paved the way for Rip City to earn the third seed. The Pelicans have done well without Cousins but sit one game behind Portland. The Timberwolves have struggled without Butler, losing two straight games.
Feeding off Lillard
The play of Damian Lillard has been tremendous throughout this stretch, he had a 19 point fourth quarter against the Lakers, scoring 14 straight at one point. Lillard single-handedly buried the Lakers and kept the streak alive. He finished the contest with 39 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists leading Portland to a 108-103 win on March 5th.
On Tuesday March 6th, Lillard scorched the Knicks with 8 threes en route to another stellar night, dropping 37 points in just 32 minutes. This performance came on the tail end of a back-to-back. Portland as a team drained 20 threes and the defense locked New York down in the second half, allowing just 32 points. It is obvious the team is feeding off the play of their captain.
Portland is having a Cinderella season and is out to prove they are a team that is better than just a first round exit in the playoffs. ESPN projected the Blazers to finish 10th in the West with 43 wins on the year, well they are 4 wins away from matching that total shattering that subpar expectation.
With 17 games left in the regular season, the Blazers are poised to finish the season strong and earn a top 4 seed out West. Their eight game win-streak will face a huge test Friday, as the Warriors come back to town. Golden State will look to avenge the Valentine’s Day loss they suffered. The vibes in Rip City are positive and their fan base is excited to see what this team can do come playoff time.