After the departure of three key players (Aldridge, Batum, and Wesley Johnson) in the offseason, this year was supposed to start the rebuild for the Portland Trail Blazers. They would go out and compete, but weren’t expected to win much and, possibly, be one of the worst teams in the West.

In perfect contradiction, Damian Lillard not only proved his superstar status but emerged as a great leader for this Portland franchise. The explosion of C.J. McCollum helped as well, but Lillard is the heart and soul of this Trail Blazers squad. In a matchup against the Thunder on Wednesday, Portland edged out the potential title contenders by the score of 120-115 and clinched their third straight playoff berth.

Granted, Billy Donovan elected to rest Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka, but Portland had already beaten them one before. Still, OKC got a lot of production from other names in the rotation. Enes Kanter had himself a career night, finishing with 33 points on 13/18 shooting and 20 rebounds. Dion Waiters had a great outing as well, tying his season-high of 25 points on 10/19 shooting.

Al-Farouq Aminu was the Trail Blazers’ leading scorer with 27, and he added six rebounds and five assists; C.J. McCollum was right behind Aminu with 26. Maurice Harkless locked down the defensive side of the ball for Portland, tallying four steals and two blocks. Damian Lillard had horrid shooting performance and recorded just 11 points on 2/13 shooting. He did, however, dish out nine assists.

The Blazers, despite pulling out the victory, almost relinquished a 16-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. In the final period, the Thunder registered 32 points and held Portland to just 21. Kanter had 12 to lead OKC and D-League call-up Josh Huestis contributed six points in the quarter. The fourth was the Blazers’ worst shooting quarter and they finished at about 35% from the field.

Both teams are in action again on Saturday. Oklahoma City travels to Sacramento and the Trail Blazers host the Timberwolves at home.

Around The League

Indiana throttled a LeBron-less Cavalier team, 123-109. Paul George had 29 points to lead all scorers, and C.J. Miles had 21 off the bench for the Pacers. Kyrie Irving had 26 points and six assists to lead to Cavs, and Kevin Love added 23 of his own.

The Dallas increased their lead over the Rockets to two games after downing their in-state rival, 88-86. J.J. Barea had a game-high 27 points and added eight assists. Dirk Nowitzki was held to just seven points on 2/8 shooting, and James Harden had 26 to lead the Rockets.

Isaiah Thomas led Boston to a 104-97 win over the Pelicans. Thomas poured in 32 points and dished out eight assists, his fifth 30/8 game this year. Toney Douglas had 19 to lead New Orleans.

Scores

CLE 109 – IND 123

DET 108 – ORL 104

BKN 103 – WASH 121

NOLA 97 – BOS 104

CHA 111 – NYK 97

HOU 86 – DAL 88

OKC 115 – POR 120

LAC 91 – LAL 81