Portland Trail Blazers: Team Passes Season’s Final Major Road Test

A 4-1 road trip for the Portland Trail Blazers showcased a couple of players that are surging and a team coming together at the right time.

The Portland Trail Blazers capped a five-game road trip Sunday night with a 115-104 victory over the Miami Heat. The win was the second game of a back-to-back. The Blazers thwarted the Atlanta Hawks 113-97 the night before. They finished the trip with a 4-1 record.

This trip marked their last extended road trip of the season. Only three of Portland’s remaining 13 games are away from the Moda Center. Despite one major hiccup against the New Orleans Pelicans, it can be said that Portland passed their final road test.

Portland came into the trip 11-22 this season in away games. This includes going 7-20 combined on road trips of three games or more.

The only road trip this year where Portland won more than they lost was a three-gamer in early November. They went 2-1, with wins over the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies and an overtime loss to the Phoenix Suns.

So it was big going 4-1 on a road trip that included games against the San Antonio Spurs and the surging Heat. It showed that despite being knocked down numerous times in the past, they weren’t afraid to go back into hostile territory and compete.

During this trip, Damian Lillard was the leader people expect him to be. Lillard averaged 36.0 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game over the last five games. He is the league’s leading scorer for games played over the past eight days, the length of the road trip.

He’s certainly set himself up as a candidate for Western Conference Player of the Week.

He put the exclamation point on his candidacy with a 49-point outing against the Heat. His point total is a season-high. His nine three-point field goals made are tied for a career-high.

Lillard also went 9-for-12 when he scored his career-high 51 points last year against the Golden State Warriors.

Lillard’s scoring opportunities have opened up thanks to the presence of Jusuf Nurkic. Chances are his torrid scoring pace will continue during this literal home stretch of the season.

Noah Vonleh has also managed to put up some impressive showings as of late. Vonleh has finished with double-digit points in each of Portland’s last three games. This includes a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds in the win over the Hawks.

He also had a season-high 12 points, along with six rebounds, in the win over the Spurs. That was the most he’s scored since his 16 points on April 12, 2015, during his time with the Charlotte Hornets.

Part of his improvement comes from head coach Terry Stotts simply giving him more playing time. Vonleh averaged 14.1 minutes per game heading into the last three games. He’s averaged 27.3 minutes per game during this recent tear.

His minutes against the Spurs (26:24), Hawks (26:58), and Heat (28:34) all fall in his career top 10 for minutes played in a game.

Vonleh is a raw 21-year-old who is still developing. However, he has shown himself to be a burgeoning rim protector and rebounder. He is also a decent finisher inside with a nice shooting touch.

Stotts has rewarded this development by giving Vonleh bigger roles over the course of the season. First, Vonleh became the starting power forward on Jan. 20. Now, he’s been given increased playing time, going for 20-plus minutes in every game of the road trip.

Vonleh isn’t a perfect player, but has shown positive signs of development throughout the year. Now he has the chance to close out the season strong.

Evan Turner also returned from a 14-game absence due to a fractured hand. He supplanted Shabazz Napier for the ninth spot in the rotation and had mixed results in his two games back.

Turner went 1-for-9 from the field in his return game against the Hawks, then 3-for-8 in Miami. He has yet to make a three-pointer on three attempts since his return.

Turner’s rough shooting isn’t new this season. Instead, he will be most needed on defense and for ball movement. It will be seen if he can re-gain his utility in the coming games.

The Portland Trail Blazers proved themselves in their last major road trip of the year. Now they can fight for the playoffs mainly from the comforts of home. We’ll see if the faces of their own crowd will be a factor in getting Portland to the postseason.

This article originally appeared on