The Portland Trail Blazers’ 2018-19 regular season included 53 wins, a third seed in the NBA Western Conference playoffs bracket, a devastating injury, a couple roster moves, and a whole lot of action. Before Portland takes on the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs, we’re look back on the season that got them here.
In this third installment, we look at the pivotal moments of the season, when President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey finessed a couple of NBA Trade Deadline moves that would change the fortunes of the up-and-down roster.
A Couple New Trail Blazers
With the Trail Blazers rolling mid-season, Neil Olshey focused on adding depth at the trade deadline. He acquired Rodney Hood from the Cleveland Cavaliers for Nik Stauskas and Wade Baldwin IV, neither of whom were a part of the rotation at the time. Portland also swapped Caleb Swanigan for Sacramento Kings forward Skal Labissiere, a financially-interesting move as Labissiere’s contract expired a season sooner than Swanigan’s.
The Hood trade provided dividends as the guard scored 14 points on 6-7 shooting in his debut game against the San Antonio Spurs. Stauskas and Baldwin were traded two more times in the following days and eventually released by the Indiana Pacers.
The Blazers lost the next two games after Hood’s introduction, the first to the Dallas Mavericks in heartbreaking fashion; they only scored nine points in the fourth quarter and blew a 14-point lead. The loss ended another weird storyline of the season: to that point Portland was 33-0 when leading after three quarters and 0-22 when trailing after three.
Amidst the consecutive losses, the organization signed Enes Kanter for the remainder of the season after the Knicks bought out his contract. Kanter cited the lack of drama and strong chemistry as his reasoning for choosing the Blazers over other suitors, like the Lakers. Like Hood, his impact was immediately felt as he posted 18 points and nine rebounds on 8-9 shooting in his debut versus the Brooklyn Nets.
Prior to Kanter joining the squad, Portland played its grittiest game of the season against Golden State on February 13. In a tight battle with the defending champs, the Blazers received much-needed energy from Zach Collins as he swatted shots and screamed at Klay Thompson. Then, he incited an eight-point possession as Draymond Green flagrant-fouled him, leading to back-to-back technicals on Steve Kerr plus one on Green. After five free throws, the Blazers finished the possession with a Layman three, which he followed with a disrespectful Jordan shrug. The 22-point win was a stellar way to enter the All-Star Break.
Lillard and Seth Curry represented the Blazers at All-Star Weekend. Both competed in the three-point competition but were eliminated in the first round. Lillard also participated in the All-Star Game on Team LeBron. He hit consecutive threes from beyond 30-feet in the third quarter to tie the game as Team LeBron’s bench exploded in disbelief and excitement.
Logo Lillard was born.
Portland returned from the All-Star break with a deep roster for the first time in years and commenced on a season-long seven-game road trip. Five wins on the trip exceeded everyone’s expectations considering the loss to the Toronto Raptors came on a Kawhi Leonard buzzer-beater and the loss to the Grizzlies was a product of the team’s tiredness after two weeks away from the Moda Center. (Peculiar side note: Kanter didn’t play in the Raptors game for political reasons, which can be read about here.)
Positives from the road trip: McCollum made seven three-pointers against Toronto, tying his career-high for the fourth time in a month’s span. Hood also erupted in the fourth quarter of the win versus Charlotte; he scored 27 points, 21 in the fourth quarter, to help Portland generate an insurmountable lead down the stretch.
The weirdest moment of the trip: Eight Blazers got trapped in an elevator for 30 minutes between the Cavs and Celtics games. Evan Turner had two granola bars and decided to share one of them, which Lillard proceeded to eat half of. That left half of one granola bar to pass around six players, not to mention the elevator heating up after 30 minutes of breathing the same air. Luckily, everyone made it out fine and cautiously took the stairs the following day.