The Trail Blazers’ positive start in the 2019 NBA Playoffs has produced a shift in narratives. Portland’s well-known storyline of postseason struggles has been replaced with tales of a plucky team from the Pacific Northwest that is capable of riding Damian Lillard’s hot hand to the Western Conference Finals. From Lillard himself to the Blazers’ established coaching staff—there is a lengthy list of beneficiaries to choose from when it comes to the early success against the Thunder.
Here is a look at the players and personnel poised to take advantage of the Blazers’ shifting storyline.
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Jusuf Nurkic’s injury paved the way for Enes Kanter to flip the script on his string of less-than-ideal postseason performances. A tumble in the second quarter of Game 2 limited the big fella’s action down the stretch, but his ability to stay on the court when called upon is a pleasant surprise. Outside of his own efforts, Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan has given Kanter an assist by allowing him to stay relatively stationary on defense. With a little help from the other side, Kanter’s marketability is in line for a boost if he continues to impact the action on the court in a positive way.
Along with Kanter, Seth Curry has shown that he is fully recovered from lengthy stints on the injured list. Potential suitors might not tag Curry as a future starter, but he should receive interest from teams looking for a high-level third guard. The NBA values efficient three-point shooting and Curry has proven he can provide fireworks from beyond the arc.
Coach Terry Stotts has made it a habit to do more with less in the Blazers’ post-Aldridge era. Stotts’ reputation should boost his leverage in future contract negotiations and Portland’s success should put David Vanterpool in line for a head coaching spot of his own in the near future. Vanterpool, who joined the Blazers’ staff in 2012, just missed out on the Orlando Magic’s top spot last summer. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Cavaliers have already expressed interest after parting ways with Larry Drew.
The Blazers’ unique way of preparing between games already caught the attention of ESPN’s Kevin Pelton. According to Pelton, Stotts places one of his assistants in the role of the opposing coach when making adjustments. Don’t be surprised if Vanterpool or Nate Tibbetts are later revealed as that staff member.
Lillard’s 0.9 heroics felt like a distant memory after a 10-game postseason losing streak. The former Weber State standout is making positive memories once again and doing so against former MVP point guard Russell Westbrook. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the favorite to emerge from the ashes of the NBA’s first LeBron-less playoffs in over a decade, but Lillard’s swagger-filled production pushed the Greek Freak through the opening week.
Even without a deep playoff run, Lillard’s scoring against the Thunder has quelled the doubts created by the Blazers’ struggles against the Pelicans in the 2018 NBA Playoffs.
It is worth noting that these positive storylines can disappear just as fast as they arrived. Regardless of the eventual finish for this season, the Blazers will find solace in their ability to snap a lengthy winless streak.