The Portland Trail Blazers are in the middle of a nine-game winning steak that has seen them vault to the upper half of the Western Conference playoff picture. They are currently 40-26, good enough for third place in the West. But that also means that nine games ago, the Blazers were 31-26. That 54.4 win percentage at the current moment of this article would equate to 10th place in the West.
So which team are they really? Chris Mannix of Yahoo! Sports gave some insight as to how and why the Blazers players and coaches believe that this winning streak is no fluke, rather just a team that has found their identity:
“We’re definitely playing better,” McCollum told Yahoo Sports. “And we’re continuing to figure each other out. Each night, we’re figuring how to contribute, how to help. We continue to get better.”
Added Evan Turner: “I think what separates [this team] from the past is when teams make runs and everything, we stick with it. We have been pretty unified lately. Everyone has been focused.
“We’re in a better position [this year]. Last year there was more urgency. We had to win 70 percent of our games to make the playoffs. Right now, we are more comfortable. We went on a run, we are sticking together, and everything is going the right way.”
Jusuf Nurkic in particular has had a year of highs and lows, but lately, has found some consistency in his game. Blazers head coach Terry Stotts reflected on the recent play of his starting big man:
“I think he’s playing better,” Stotts said. “He’s still been a little up and down. Defensively we have been better with him on the floor. I do think he is finishing better. He’s probably not playing at the level he did last year — I think that was probably lightning in a bottle for everybody. But he has been an important part of what we are doing now.”
The Blazers are coming into their own as a team and have been playing great, but they’re making it clear that this winning streak doesn’t accomplish any of their season goals:
“What streak?” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. Added Damian Lillard, “I’m proud of it, but we’ve got to keep going.”