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.
We round the home stretch with perhaps the strongest play the Trail Blazers showed all season, given the circumstances. If the league was ready to sing a dirge over Portland after Jusuf Nurkic’s season-ending injury, the Blazers were having none of it.
Strong Ending to a Strong Season
Like Seth Curry did in the absence of CJ McCollum, Enes Kanter stepped up after Nurkic went down. The Blazers won four of the next five against tanking and injury-ridden teams. Evan Turner also thrived against the weaker competition as he posted back-to-back triple-doubles. The first made history as no other player has ever shot perfect from the field en route to a triple-double off the bench; the second did as well as no other player has had back-to-back triple-doubles off the bench.
A Turner-led win over Memphis on April 3 marked Portland’s 50th win of the season, earning Nurkic a $1.25 million salary incentive bonus. Meanwhile Zach Collins scored a career-high 22 points that game and Damian Lillard reached 2,000 points on the season for the second time in his career.
The Western Conference standings continued to shuffle nightly as the Blazers headed to Denver for a home-and-home with serious playoff implications. The undermanned roster lost on the road, but with the help of McCollum—finally back after missing 10 games with a knee strain—Portland won at the Moda Center. Praise rained down on Al-Farouq Aminu: He posted his first career 20-10 game to lead Portland to a much-needed win.
The season wound down with a redemption story: Maurice Harkless grabbed the “unexpected hero” torch from Aminu in the Blazers next match-up in LA. As the Lakers organization descended into chaos from Magic Johnson’s impromptu press conference that very night, Harkless sunk another knife in their side by scoring Portland’s final 12 points, including a buzzer-beater to win the game and secure the Blazers home court advantage in the upcoming playoffs.
With that win, the number of potential playoff opponents dwindled to two: Oklahoma City and Utah.
Although a win enabled the chance to finish third in the West and face the Thunder, Head Coach Terry Stotts emphasized rest by sitting his core rotation in the final game versus the Sacramento Kings. Portland’s starting lineup in Game 82 was Anfernee Simons, Gary Trent Jr., Jake Layman, Skal Labissiere and Meyers Leonard. They each played over 40 minutes as the Blazers utilized a six-man rotation; Collins played 13 minutes.
Behind Simons’ record-setting performance for a rookie in his first start, Portland clawed back from a 28-point deficit to win dramatically. Simons and Labissiere posted monster stat lines and had the Blazers bench on their feet for the entire fourth quarter.
The improbable win was a perfectly unexpected ending to an unexpectedly turbulent – yet electrifying – season. Earning the third seed in the West with 53 wins after all the adversity was not too shabby for a Portland squad considered to be near the end of their shelf life at the beginning of the season. The Blazers tied their eight-best record in franchise history, offering hope that with enough depth surrounding them, the Lillard-McCollum roster may not only be viable, but successful. Whatever it turns into after the matchup with the Thunder in the playoffs, this season was quite a ride.