The Portland Trail Blazers continued its longest win streak of the season Saturday, taking care of the lowly Phoenix Suns 130-117 at the Moda Center, despite the absence of patient zero for Nurkic Fever. The win extends Portland’s hot streak to six games and keeps them - at least for now - entrenched in eighth and final playoff seed in the Western Conference Standings at 38-38 - returning to .500 for the first time since the team was 12-12 on Dec. 8. The Blazers’ Magic Number for reaching the playoffs is still 5, as explained here.
More than a few guys delivered good lines: Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum each took their own turn taking Phoenix’s youth movement to school, combining for 60 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds to lead the way for the Blazers. And Evan Turner had by far his best performance since returning from injury, scoring 18 points on 6-11 shooting.
Noah Vonleh also stepped up capably as perhaps the most likely candidate to (somehow) try and fill the massive void left by Jusuf Nurkic, notching a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
At first it looked like the Blazers would put this one away quickly. Phoenix came out of the gates looking like a team already thinking about the draft lottery and to its credit Portland jumped on them. Even with the sorely missing presence of one Bosnian man-beast the offense managed to hum - At just the 8:47 mark in the second quarter free throws from CJ McCollum skunked the Suns at 50-25 and an easy night appeared to be in store.
But Phoenix started to dig in, primarily behind the young talent of Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss who scored 13 apiece as the Suns chipped away at the lead, eventually pulling within single digits on Ty Warren’s running transition dunk in the final minute.
Portland Trail Blazers 63, Phoenix Suns 53
Damian Lillard started to come alive after the break, scoring 17 points in the the third quarter - including three treys - to help try and fend off the still inspired Suns.
But despite Lillard’s effort, Phoenix continued to hang around and managed to evenly match Portland in the period, heading into the final frame well within striking distance. Jumpers from Warren and Jared Dudley to open the fourth cut further into the lead and then a bucket from Alan Williams got the Suns as close as they would get the rest of the way at 99-95.
The Blazers responded in the manner of a 14-0 run over the next two minutes which more or less dialed down the intensity and gave Portland some breathing room.
McCollum joined in on Lillard’s tear and the two collectively buried Phoenix down the stretch.
The Blazers will head out to Minnesota - again - Monday to make up a game that was postponed earlier on Mar. 7 due to condensation on the court of the Target Center. Let’s hope they can find a hotel. Tip is set for 4 p.m. Pacific.
-- Ryan Rosback | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter