After the Portland Trail Blazers had beaten the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, they moved into a tie with the Denver Nuggets for the eighth-seed in the West.
Damian Lillard and Portland are now back in the playoff hunt, but it wasn’t without help from Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans. In addition to dropping the Lakers, the Blazers needed Denver to lose to make the tie possible. Not only were the Nuggets defeated, but Davis and New Orleans walloped them.
Just to be proactive, Lillard sent texts to Davis and former teammate Tim Frazier, and the two kept their promise. The final count was 115-90 in favor of New Orleans, and Davis had a dominant game with 31 points and 15 boards in just 28 minutes. Frazier was also solid, and he handed out eight assists and tallied 11 points of his own.
Also Read: Seth Curry Is Gunning For Mavs’ PG Spot
In Los Angeles, Portland won an ugly game by actually playing defense — I know, I can’t believe it either. The Lakers shot a piddling 39 percent from the field and mustered just 81 points on 84 shot attempts. Portland wasn’t much better, but they did get 22 from Lillard and 18 from Allen Crabbe to aid the effort.
“They both said, ‘I got you,’ so I guess they’re a man of their word,” said Lillard jokingly to Cody Sharrett of NBA.com. The Blazers are still three games under .500 at 35-38 but have pulled out seven wins in their last 10 games. Their hot streak is wholly unexpected because this is the same team that was 23-33 heading into the All-Star break. Since then, Portland is tied with Milwaukee and Golden State for the second-most wins (12) and is also tied with the Warriors for the third-best winning percentage (.706), according to NBA.com.
Lillard has been the driving force behind this turnaround, and the All-Star snub is averaging 30 points a night on 49.1 percent from the field, up from his season averages of 26.8 on a 44.8 percent clip. Now that he’s playing better and more efficiently, his differential has increased more than eight-fold, and Portland is 9.6 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor.
Portland’s next game is Tuesday night, and it just so happens to be against the Nuggets. The winner of that game will take hold of the eighth-seed, but the remaining schedules for both teams couldn’t be more contrasting. Both have nine games left and will see four playoff teams in that time, but the Nuggets have an easier road because seven of their contests come at home, whereas the Blazers are in PDX for just two.
In a coincidental effort to counteract that, Denver suits up for two back-to-backs while the Blazers get just one, but that’s not before traveling from Denver to Houston to Phoenix before going back home.
The final stretch for the playoff’s last seed is now a two-team race. Dallas is 3.5 games back, and New Orleans is four, and that’s quite the deficit to make up unless something incredible happens.
Start a conversation with me on Twitter