Damian Lillard’s 41 points led the way for the Blazers and Portland tightened up on defense in the final frame to ensure that the Magic never took the lead back.
If you missed the action, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After that, here are three observations from the win in sunny central Florida:
Too Many Turnovers
The Blazers didn’t do the best job taking care of the basketball, especially in the first half. coughing up possession 12 times.
Many of those turnovers came on errant passes and silly errors, including two backcourt violations. The mistakes were mostly preventable, and had the Blazers lost, that would have been the biggest reason why.
However, a win is a win, especially when the Western Conference is as tight as it is right now.
The Blazers did a better job of taking care of the basketball in the second half, creating just five turnovers. But 17 total turnovers and 23 points scored off those errors is not a recipe for success in these tight games towards the end of the season.
Portland is 19th in the NBA with 14.6 turnovers per game, and that number needs to be lower if the team wants to win more games.
Getting to the Line
Damian Lillard wasn’t exactly efficient from the field (10-25 FG, 4-16 3PM) to land his 41-point outing. However, he was efficient from the free throw line, where he made 17 of 20 shots.
As a team, the Blazers made 28 of 32 free throws and it became key down the stretch.
With the game tied at 113 with less than a minute to go, the Blazers made all six of their free throws when fouled intentionally and it iced the game.
Jerami Grant was perfect from the charity stripe, knocking down all seven of his free throw attempts, and making free throws is the difference between winning and losing in close-knit games like tonight’s.
The Blazers rank sixth in the league in free throw percentage at 80.5, and that number will go up after tonight’s prolific performance.
Finding a Way
With tonight’s win, the Blazers are tied in the loss column at 34 with the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder. At least one of those teams will make it to the Play-In Tournament next month, meaning every game from here on out grows in importance.
In games where outcomes are decided by one or two possessions, it doesn’t matter how the wins come, as long as the Blazers come out on the winning side.
Tonight, thanks to Lillard’s heroics and clutch gene from the free throw line, the Blazers found a way to get it done.
Portland has the 9th-toughest strength of schedule remaining in the league, and the Blazers play just two more games against teams not in contention for the playoffs.
Tonight’s game against the Magic, a team unlikely to play postseason basketball, wasn’t quite a must-win, but had they lost, it would have been one of the games the team would look back on and wish they had back.
But now, the Blazers don’t have to worry about that problem and can continue to focus their efforts towards what’s next without any regrets.
Portland’s road trip continues in Detroit on Monday with a game against the Pistons with a 4:00 PM Pacific start.