• Just one more win.

    The Portland Trail Blazers beat the Los Angeles Clippers 105-96 on Friday night, strengthening their grip on third place in the Western Conference and coming within a single victory of clinching a playoff berth for the fourth consecutive season. Jusuf Nurkic and Damian Lillard led the charge for Portland, taking full advantage of the Clippers’ aggressive pick-and-roll coverage to not just put up numbers of their own, but consistently create opportunities for teammatees that culminated in one of the Blazers’ most impressive offensive performances of the season.

    Nurkic had 21 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and four blocks on 9-of-17 shooting, continuing the strong two-way play that’s been a hallmark of his team’s in-season turnaround. Lillard went just 5-of-16 from the field, but was Portland’s table-setter all night long, scoring 17 points, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing a game-high 11 assists. Three others Blazers scored in double figures, including Zach Collins, who managed a career-high in points midway through the second quarter en route to 15 points and four assists on 7-of-10 shooting.

    The Blazers’ eye-popping play offensive is especially encouraging because their jumpers never fell. They shot just 8-of-30 from beyond the arc, good for 26.7 percent. Worse? According to NBA.com/stats, Portland was 18-of-46 on uncontested field goal attempts; Terry Stotts’ team fared better on Friday night under duress, converting 23-of-49 of its contested looks.

    Those shooting woes, which now count as a small measure of concern given similarly poor shot-making in previous games, didn’t stop the Blazers from carving up the Clippers’ defense, though. Portland matched a season-high by doling out 30 assists, finding help on 73.1 percent of its baskets, a share comfortably than the Golden State Warriors’ season-long mark and one that seemed impossible for this team to achieve given its decided lack of ball movement in Wednesday’s loss to the lowly Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum.

    But Lillard missed that game, of course, robbing the Blazers of gravity only he and perhaps two other players in basketball possess. Nurkic was the biggest beneficiary of Lillard’s presence on Tuesday, feasting in pick-and-roll action whether Los Angeles trapped the ball handler or opted for a switch.

    “It’s hard. I can’t explain that,” Nurkic said after the game of his offensive chemistry with Lillard. “We understand each other and the games we have. Every possession, we already know where we’re going to be and how we’re going to play. When we look at each other, we already know what we’re going to do.”


    Yet it wasn’t until was Nurkic on the bench that Portland broke the game open. Blazers reserves scored 17 consecutive points during a lively stretch in the second quarter, one marked as much by defensive highlights as offensive ones. Collins and Ed Davis, who left the game in the third quarter after spraining his right ankle, both had spectacular sequences that began with a block on one end and a dunk on the other. The rookie made each of his first six shots, too, breaking out of a mini slump by showing off the package of length, mobility and skill that could potentially make him a prototype big man in the modern NBA.

    “He came out of a timeout with a chip on his shoulder, and the first possession he got it, he drove it and was aggressive,” Stotts said of Collins. “I thought from that point on he was really aggressive, and I liked the way he finished.”

    Making matters even better for Portland is that the Oklahoma City Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans, beaten by the Blazers earlier this week, lost on Friday night. Despite winning just half of its games following the end of that season-altering 13-game winning streak, Lillard and company are now three games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs for third place in the West with six left to play – setting up a potential second-round matchup with the hobbled, frustrated Golden State Warriors.

    “We’ve got real faith in what we can accomplish,” Lillard said after the game. “And I think over time, that’s allowed us to become a really good team.”

    With a playoff berth and home-court advantage plainly on the horizon, no one would argue the Blazers are anything less.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x