Following the Portland Trail Blazers games should be an end now.
After a 124-121 win over Philadelphia on Sunday in which Damian Lillard scored 51 points, Portland reaching the play-off round in the NBA bubble in Florida should be considered a premature finish with Dallas and Brooklyn remaining on schedule .
But there is a catch. The Mavericks and Nets have nothing left to play. Both secured playoff points before resuming. Both teams can sit the star players the rest of the way to rest in the play offs.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why there must remain a lot of trepidation regarding these Blazers reaching the NBA playoffs.
For the second day in a row, ninth-placed Portland, after looking so strongly through four games, allowed an impoverished star team to maintain the lead late in the fourth quarter. Luckily for the Blazers (33-39) on Sunday, they managed to pull off the win against a 76ers minus All-Star team ahead of Ben Ben Simmons (out for the season with a knee injury) and All-Star center Joel Embiid of 6 : 12 mark in the first quarter after he came out of the competition with a leg injury.
Due to their absence, Sunday’s match should not have been near. But this is a Blazers team that on Saturday lost 122-117 to the Los Angeles Clippers, who landed ahead of All-Star Kawhi Leonard and removed all-Star Paul George from the game by about five minutes to advance to the fourth quarter. , basically saying they did not care if they won the game or not. But somehow they still won as they shot 44.1 percent from the three-point range.
On Sunday, Portland watched guard Josh Richardson play like an All-Star and score 34 points to lead nearly 76ers (42-28) into a boredom while shooting 46.7 percent in three-point shots compared to 31.4 percent for Portland.
“I’m really glad we won,” said Portland coach Terry Stotts. “In a way it was similar to the game (yesterday) with the Clippers (47-23). They played a smaller formation, they clashed around, Josh Richardson had a great game. Credit to him and how he played. “But the biggest thing is with the pressure that we still found a way to win a game.”
Basically, the less All-Star players the better against these Blazers. And that does not bode well for Portland on Tuesday against seventh-placed Dallas (42-30), a team that has announced it will land All-Star guard Luka Doncic and ahead of Kristaps Porzingis on Monday against Utah. What are the chances that they both play a lot, if at all, on Tuesday?
As for Networks (34-36), seventh in the East, they have been without All-Star Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan, all not reunited with the team for the restart. They will have nothing to play for Thursday against Portland.
On paper, all of this means the Blazers will win their last two games and be in the play-off round as the eighth-place team or ninth-place team, depending on what happens to Memphis. of eight-places (33-38). But there is not. Instead, Portland is a loss from the ninth fall potential and out of the country to be in the play-off round.
San Antonio (31-38) and Phoenix (31-39) are waiting to jump.
Of course, Lillard was a special Sunday. He bounced back from Saturday when he missed his two free throws and a three-point attempt in the final 50 seconds to contribute to the Clippers loss. His story of taking on this disappointment of having a great game is legitimate, but not from the unexpected distance.
“It was a team loss yesterday and obviously Dame lost his free kicks and I don’t think anyone thinks less about Dame,” Stotts said. “Tonight, he showed his determination and willpower that he showed throughout his career, and definitely here in the bubble.”
Lillard said he had climbed a bit on Saturday night, but through the help of conversations with teammates and friends, he rationalized that games and bad moments happen to everyone and that they are just a part of the game.
While his brilliant performance was certainly a strong story line, Portland would not have to rely on Lillard to score 51 to beat what put Philadelphia on the floor. The reality is that Portland did not leave for Florida to resume watching Lillard do what Lillard does. The Blazers went to Orlando to qualify for the playoffs and win a shot at the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. And now, that goal remains in jeopardy.
Portland not only had a chance to take two this weekend and move into possession of just eight, he had a chance to do so without spending a lot of energy. Lillard thrives in such situations.
“I like those mind games because you see people start to break down mentally,” he said. “People start making mistakes. You get to the point where only a few people will be able to push and support the same level of concentration. And I like to take advantage of that because I know I will be there all the time. Physically and mentally “
But few are at the level of Lillard. Without Hassan Whiteside’s reserve center (hip injury), Jusuf Nurkic had to play much more and in the back-and-forth days. He sucked it in to give Portland 15 points and six rebounds in 29 minutes, but admitted his body was not feeling well going on Sunday after Saturday’s tough game. Above all, he is coming out of a broken leg that cost him 16 months.
What is most alarming here is that the protection of the Portland perimeter has shown no improvement. So any NBA player capable of hitting with open shots can have a great game against Portland because he will get open shots. This happened to Richardson of Philadelphia, who made 13 of 20 shots, including 6 of 10 three-point attempts. For the season, he averaged 13.6 points per game.
If Portland can not close more effectively in shooters against Dallas and Brooklyn, then both games will become incredibly lost, regardless of who is on the field.
Give credit to the Blazers, however, for how their defense performed late against the 76ers. Portland stunned 114-108 with 4:23 remaining before scoring nine points in a row to take the lead 117-114. Carmelo Anthony hit a three. CJ McCollum hit a t-shirt. Lillard then choked with a three-pointer to the left 2:53, pulled a foul and made the free kick.
But to win the game, Portland, who gave up 39 points in the second quarter and 63 in the second half, had to make a few stops.
Leading 124-121 with 10.2 seconds to go, the Blazers got the stop they needed when Anthony teased Richardson just enough to make him miss a three-pointer and then several Blazers got involved for a free-kick that Philadelphia on finally grabbed but not before time ran out.
“We just wanted to pass and not be absent and make any mistakes,” Anthony said of that last defensive stance.
Maybe if they could have won such battles more often in the game, it would not have been so close and their future in the playoffs would not have remained so weak.
– Aaron Fentress | afentress@Oregonian.com | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook).
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