Image courtesy of James Schumacher

Trail Blazers continue their struggle without Lillard

It is a desperate time for the Portland Trailblazers. This time last year, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum made up one of the top backcourts in the country had firmly positioned their team as contenders and now the team is fighting to earn the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Blazers were expected to follow up their Western Conference Finals appearance from last year with another deep playoff run, but injuries have derailed the team thus far. 

Starting center Jusuf Nurkic is still out while rehabilitating the leg he broke in the playoffs last season. Power forward Zach Collins is in the midst of rehab after undergoing shoulder surgery. Most notably, however, superstar Damian Lillard strained his groin right before the mid-season and is scheduled to miss several key games just as the team needs him the most to make their final playoff push.

Coming out of the all-star break, the Lillard-less Blazers team lost a close game to the New Orleans Pelicans, who are also competing for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs, on February 21.. The starting lineup of the Blazers all posted double figures and were led by CJ McCollum, but like most games for the Blazers this season, the Pelicans were able to use their rookie sensation power forward Zion Williams to attack their weakened frontcourt. Williamson finished with 25 points on an efficient 10-17 shooting. 

The Blazers bounced back from the defeat with a tight win over the floundering Detroit Pistons on February 23. The game was almost single-handedly won by McCollum who dropped 42 points and Carmelo Anthony who added 32. McCollum sealed the game with a long-range three-pointer in the closing seconds. 

Unfortunately, this momentum did not carry on to the next two games. Portland then had to face a tough opponent in the Boston Celtics, losing 118-106. The final score was deceptively close, as the Celtics led for almost the entire game and took advantage of weak perimeter defense and the Blazer’s poor shot selection. It did not help that they caught the first time Celtic all-star Jayson Tatum in the middle of the hottest shooting streak of his career. The Celtics also added a season-high 19 three-pointers.

Adding to their misfortune, the Blazers suffered another close loss to the Indiana Pacers 106-100 on February 27. The Pacers used a similar formula as the Pelicans as forward Domantas Sabonis earned 20 points along with 11 rebounds. After a back and forth game, Pacers center Myles Turner hit the dagger three to defeat the embattled Blazers.

While the Blazers have fought valiantly, it is undeniable that this team will not be able to make the playoffs without the return of Lillard. He is the anchor of their offense and their go-to player in critical moments. Although center Hassan Whiteside has improved immensely on the defensive end in the place of Collins and Nurkic, his offense has been inconsistent at a time where the Blazers desperately need some inside scoring.  

The Blazers then traveled to the east coast and split a pair of games. In crushing defeat on February 29, the Blazers dug themselves a deep hole in the first half, falling behind by 20 points. Despite a strong effort by CJ McCollum with 35 points, it again became evident that the team lacked crucial scoring with the absence of Damian Lillard, who was averaging close to 30 points before injuring himself. They were ultimately unable to withstand the scoring trio of forward John Collins (24), rookie forward Deandre Hunter (22), and all-star guard Trae Young (25). The final score was 129-117. Since the Hawks are at the bottom of the league standings, the Blazers inability to earn this win is a major blow to their playoff hopes.

On March 2, The Blazers posted one of their highest scoring games of the season as they dropped 130 points on the Orlando Magic, who finished with 107. This blowout win was much needed, especially considering Damian Lillard’s return is right around the corner. McCollum scored 41 which paired perfectly with a career night from Gary Trent Jr. who had 24 points. Most importantly however was the even spread of scoring. For a team that has been so decimated by injuries this year, the fact that they were able to have 6 players in double figures is a great sign for the future. 

Even if the team does not make the playoffs this year, they will have given the reserves crucial NBA experience that will improve their all-around team next year when everyone is back from injury. For example, while a rookie player like Nassir Little would usually be added to the team’s developmental league affiliate, he has been given the opportunity to demonstrate how he stacks up against high level competition. Another good sign has been the production of Carmelo Anthony. The team took a risk when they signed the former all-star in the middle of the season. While Anthony used to be one of the league’s premier scorers, he fell on difficult times after leaving the New York Knicks. Once a ten time all-star, he was cut by multiple teams due to his lack of defensive effort and inability to fill a rotation player role. However, his career has been revived in Portland and he has consistently put up strong numbers, showing flashes of his former self. When Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, and Rodney Hill all return to full form the team will have a lot of talent to work with. 

They currently have a record of 27-35 which positions them two spots out of the last spot in the NBA playoffs. Their next game is Friday against the Phoenix Suns.

t is a desperate time for the Portland Trailblazers. This time last year, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum made up one of the top backcourts in the country had firmly positioned their team as contenders and now the team is fighting to earn the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Blazers were expected to follow up their Western Conference Finals appearance from last year with another deep playoff run, but injuries have derailed the team thus far. 

Starting center Jusuf Nurkic is still out while rehabilitating the leg he broke in the playoffs last season. Power forward Zach Collins is in the midst of rehab after undergoing shoulder surgery. Most notably however, superstar Damian Lillard strained his groin right before the mid-season and is scheduled to miss several key games just as the team needs him the most to make their final playoff push.

Coming out of the all-star break, the Lillard-less Blazers team lost a close game to the New Orleans Pelicans, who are also competing for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs, on February 21.. The starting lineup of the Blazers all posted double figures and were led by CJ McCollum, but like most games for the Blazers this season, the Pelicans were able to use their rookie sensation power forward Zion Williams to attack their weakened frontcourt. Williamson finished with 25 points on an efficient 10-17 shooting. 

The Blazers bounced back from the defeat with a tight win over the floundering Detroit Pistons on February 23. The game was almost single-handedly won by McCollum who dropped 42 points and Carmelo Anthony who added 32. McCollum sealed the game with a long-range three-pointer in the closing seconds. 

Unfortunately, this momentum did not carry on to the next two games. Portland then had to face a tough opponent in the Boston Celtics, losing 118-106. The final score was deceptively close, as the Celtics led for almost the entire game and took advantage of weak perimeter defense and the Blazer’s poor shot selection. It did not help that they caught the first time Celtic all-star Jayson Tatum in the middle of the hottest shooting streak of his career. The Celtics also added a season-high 19 three-pointers.

Adding to their misfortune, the Blazers suffered another close loss to the Indiana Pacers 106-100 on February 27. The Pacers used a similar formula as the Pelicans as forward Domantas Sabonis earned 20 points along with 11 rebounds. After a back and forth game, Pacers center Myles Turner hit the dagger three to defeat the embattled Blazers.

While the Blazers have fought valiantly, it is undeniable that this team will not be able to make the playoffs without the return of Lillard. He is the anchor of their offense and their go-to player in critical moments. Although center Hassan Whiteside has improved immensely on the defensive end in the place of Collins and Nurkic, his offense has been inconsistent at a time where the Blazers desperately need some inside scoring.  

The Blazers then travelled to the east coast and split a pair of games. In crushing defeat on February 29, the Blazers dug themselves a deep hole in the first half, falling behind by 20 points. Despite a strong effort by CJ McCollum with 35 points, it again became evident that the team lacked crucial scoring with the absence of Damian Lillard, who was averaging close to 30 points before injuring himself. They were ultimately unable to withstand the scoring trio of forward John Collins (24), rookie forward Deandre Hunter (22), and all-star guard Trae Young (25). The final score was 129-117. Since the Hawks are at the bottom of the league standings, the Blazers inability to earn this win is a major blow to their playoff hopes.

On March 2, The Blazers posted one of their highest scoring games of the season as they dropped 130 points on the Orlando Magic, who finished with 107. This blowout win was much needed, especially considering Damian Lillard’s return is right around the corner. McCollum scored 41 which paired perfectly with a career night from Gary Trent Jr. who had 24 points. Most importantly however was the even spread of scoring. For a team that has been so decimated by injuries this year, the fact that they were able to have 6 players in double figures is a great sign for the future. 

Even if the team does not make the playoffs this year, they will have given the reserves crucial NBA experience that will improve their all-around team next year when everyone is back from injury. For example, while a rookie player like Nassir Little would usually be added to the team’s developmental league affiliate, he has been given the opportunity to demonstrate how he stacks up against high level competition. Another good sign has been the production of Carmelo Anthony. The team took a risk when they signed the former all-star in the middle of the season. While Anthony used to be one of the league’s premier scorers, he fell on difficult times after leaving the New York Knicks. Once a ten time all-star, he was cut by multiple teams due to his lack of defensive effort and inability to fill a rotation player role. However, his career has been revived in Portland and he has consistently put up strong numbers, showing flashes of his former self. When Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, and Rodney Hill all return to full form the team will have a lot of talent to work with. 

They currently have a record of 27-35 which positions them two spots out of the last spot in the NBA playoffs. Their next game is Friday against the Phoenix Suns.

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