Last week we hoped the Portland Trail Blazers (34-38) could make up some ground on the Denver Nuggets (35-37) for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs. Instead, the Blazers mostly kept pace with the Nuggets, finishing the week with a 3-1 record to Denver’s 2-1 record and remaining one game back heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers.
ICYMI, here’s a quick roundup of the week’s coverage from Blazer’s Edge.
To Tank or Not to Tank?
There was some discussion on the value of tanking for a high draft pick vs. pushing to make the playoffs as a low seed with little chance of making the second round.
Why I Want to Make the Playoffs: On Monday Peter Sampson broke down why he wants to see the team be successful in their push to the playoffs. He wrote that while he understands the logical reasons for tanking, he’d rather see Portland win.
In a season like this, one in which watching this team night-in and night-out has been an exercise in self-punishment as much as it’s been entertaining, this current March run has been a breath of fresh air. ... This stretch has been the most fun I’ve had as a fan all season long, and I want it to last as long as possible.
What are the NBA Playoffs Worth to the Blazers? On Thursday Eric Griffith provided an alternative perspective. He acknowledged that it’s too late to start tanking now, but still wished that Portland had pulled the plug a few weeks ago.
I’m worn out on talking myself into believing that Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkić can compete with the Golden State Warriors. I’m sick and tired of concocting off-the-wall scenarios in which Isaiah Rider, Clifford Robinson, and Kenny Anderson find a way to upset the Shaquille O’Neal-era Lakers. I want to be able to cheer for something more than a first-round upset.
More Playoffs Discussion: Dan Marang and Dave Deckard talked about Portland’s improved play this week on the Blazer’s Edge podcast. They point out some of the less obvious players who are playing better and look ahead at the rest of this season’s games.
Lillard’s Hot Streak
Damian Lillard won the Western Conference Player of the Week last week. He averaged 36 points per game over the recent road trip and
Lillard on Getting His Mind and Body Right: On Monday Jason Quick wrote about how Lillard was consumed by a family matter earlier this season. Steve Dewald broke down Quick’s article for us. Over the All-Star break, Lillard was able to connect with and open up to friends and family members to help him deal with the stress. “A weight,’’ he said, “was lifted off my back.’’
Dame’s 3-Point Percentage: In Monday’s mailbag, Dave Deckard answered a question about Lillard’s 3-point shooting percentage. He pointed out that 3-pointers make up less of Lillard’s offense this year than last year.
The Nurkic Fever Still Hasn’t Broken
Nurkic’s Influence on Lillard’s Play: Mike Prada of SB Nation broke down how Jusuf Nurkic’s screens helped Lillard’s 49 point game in Miami. Ryne Buchanan wrote about Prada’s analysis for us.
Nurkic vs. Plumlee: Dave tackled the subject of Nurk’s screens in Friday’s mailbag. He looked at the difference between Nurkic’s and Plumlee’s pick and rolls with Damian Lillard.
Jusuf Nurkić has made a big difference in Portland’s screen game. Over time that’s going to make a difference in the offense too. It may not show up on a given play, but over the course of thousands of sets during a season, it’ll show up.
Games This Week
Blazers at Heat, March 19: On Sunday the Blazers finished off their five game road trip with a 115-104 win over the Miami Heat. Portland ended up going 4-1 on the trip. Lillard scored 49 points in the win. As the race for the playoffs tightens, every game becomes important. Damian Lillard told CSN’s Brooke Olzendam after the game “We gotta empty the clip every night.”
Blazers vs. Bucks, March 21: Portland came up empty in their next game, losing 93-90 at home to the Milwaukee Bucks. Lillard again led the way with 31 points, but shot 2-9 from three.
Blazers vs. Knicks, March 23: The Blazers got back on track against the New York Knicks on Thursday night. They picked up a 110-95 victory over what could have been mistaken for a D-League team according to Eric Griffith. Lillard continued his nice play, putting in 30 points, but it was a well-balanced effort overall for Portland as six Blazers scored in double figures.
Blazers vs. Timberwolves, March 25: Portland led from start to finish in another relatively easy victory. CJ McCollum led the team with 32 points on 11-13 shooting.
Overall, Dame led the way this week scoring an average of 32.7 points per game. Nurkic has a solid week as well. He led the team with 11.5 rebounds and added 15.5 points per game.
Looking Ahead: Portland and Denver both have games today. The Nuggets are at home against the New Orleans Pelicans while Portland travels to LA to play the Lakers. Denver comes to the Moda Center on Tuesday in a crucial match up in the race to the 8-seed. The Blazers finish out the week with home games against the Houston Rockets on Thursday and the Phoenix Suns on Saturday, while the Nuggets only have one more game—a road game against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday.
Be sure to check back on Blazer’s Edge throughout the week to stay up to date on all the latest Trail Blazer news and analysis.