The Portland Trail Blazers walked away from the disappointing loss versus the Los Angeles Clippers after Damian Lillard struggled to close out the win and missed two free throws to end it, knowing they had to get their heads straight and back into it to face the Philadelphia 76ers. Yet despite the struggles against the Clippers, Joe Vardon of the Athletic offers a beacon of hope: the Blazers aren’t your typical 8th seed — should they make the playoffs — and if they face the Lakers, they could win.
The Blazers, if they do get into the playoffs, are not a traditional No. 8 seed. They were missing their two best defenders all season to surgeries in Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, and because of the pandemic they had time to heal and are both playing. They dramatically change the Blazers, giving them the length and foot speed to match up with the Lakers’ size, and they unlock Portland’s dynamic guards in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum — two players the Lakers, as constructed, might not have answers for in the playoffs. Gary Trent Jr. has turned into a super sub. With his six 3s on Saturday, he’s now shooting 28-of-45 from deep in the bubble; as a team, the Lakers are shooting 50-of-197 from 3-point range at Disney.
CJ McCollum recognized that perhaps speculating about the Lakers was looking too far ahead.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff we have to go through before we play the Lakers,” McCollum said. “We’ve got to focus on the Sixers tomorrow, try and get that game and then go from there.”
Damian Lillard stated that the team is looking to win all of their remaining games to firm up their position in the standings.
Lillard said the Blazers are approaching these last three games like they have to win them all, mostly because they’d like to pass the Grizzlies for eighth. Doing so would require just one win, instead of two, over the ninth seed. The Clippers would like that, and showed as much on Saturday.
You can read the rest of Vardon’s piece here.