Damian Lillard made his return and the Portland Trail Blazers took care of business by rolling over the Los Angeles Clippers 105-96 Friday, earning a rare easy late season victory and setting the team up nicely to secure the third seed and home court advantage in the ever-tight Western Conference standings.
The Blazers led by double-digits for most of the night before Los Angeles made a run in the fourth quarter, so the final score is not really representative of how close this game was, but by then it was little more than saving face.
Portland improved to 47-29 and currently sit three games ahead of the suddenly-getting-scary-again San Antonio Spurs, who have a slim hold on fourth place by virtue of losses by the Thunder and Pelicans. The Blazers could have clinched a playoff spot, but the Timberwolves and Nuggets both won in close contests this evening.
Sure to be monitored will be the status of Ed Davis, who went to the locker room after apparently rolling his ankle late in the third quarter. More to come.
The Blazers had a mostly balanced effort but were led by Jusuf Nurkic (21 points, 12 rebounds, 3 steal, 2 blocks), Lillard (17 points, 11 assists, 7 rebounds) and Zach Collins (15 points, 2 blocks).
The Clippers were led by Lou Williams (23 points) and Tobias Harris (11 points, 4 rebounds).
You gotta dunk that. Portland put up basically its yearly quota of dunks by halftime, taking advantage of a curiously small lineup for the Clippers which got just worked by Blazer bigs. At one point Portland was able to to get to the rim unimpeded five or six times in a row, giving them a double-digit lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Shining brightest was Collins, who again oozed with tantalizing potential as he converted fast break alley-oops and showed flashes of skillful post play all alongside superb defense in one of the best games of his rookie season.
Nurkic also continued his strong play as of late, turning in yet another 20/10 stat line and shouldering a big load of the offense in the second half as Lillard and C.J. McCollum both had relatively off nights.
Sharing is caring. Where there’s dunks there’s dimes. Along with the interior dominance, the Blazers also set a season mark for assists with 30, which is impressive for a team that ranks near the bottom of the league in that category. Lillard led the way with another double-double, but the team had good ball movement across the board as guys routinely found cutters and by and large the Clippers had no interest in guarding those cutters. Portland didn’t shoot the lights out (43%) - and was a paltry 8-30 from deep - but easy buckets gave them a path to a win.
The Blazers will get a day off before hosting a rematch with the Memphis Grizzlies at the Moda Center Sunday at 6 p.m.