Portland Trail Blazers: Keeping Pace In Race For The 8th Seed

The Portland Trail Blazers are 2-2 over the last four games, with big wins and controversial losses. What is keeping them afloat in this playoff race?

The Portland Trail Blazers‘ 110-106 win over the San Antonio Spurs was big one in multiple ways.

The victory came off of a crushing 100-77 defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans the night before. A loss like that could have deflated morale and led to an equally bad performance on Wednesday.

Instead, the Blazers went into one of the NBA’s toughest arenas on the second game of a back-to-back and beat the Western Conference’s second-best team.

Head coach Terry Stotts told reporters postgame how he felt about his team’s performance,

“Well that had to be to be probably our best win of the year. To beat a team like San Antonio on the road, and not only that, but how we won, I thought it was one of our better games as far as staying focused throughout the game. Withstanding some of their runs, the crowd, a lot of good performances.”

The Blazers have a notoriously easy schedule this month and next, but they still managed to take down the toughest team on the docket.

Damian Lillard continues to lead the way as the Blazers have reached the halfway point of a 16-game March. Lillard is averaging 29.4 points, 5.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game on the month.

Lillard was already playing well during Portland’s month-opening four-game winning streak. However, he has kicked it to a higher gear in terms of scoring. He has managed to score over 30 points in three of the last four games.

This includes a 39-point night in a win at the Phoenix Suns and a 36-point output against the Spurs.

Portland’s collective shooting halfway into this month has been phenomenal.

The Blazers went 2-7 in February, but still managed to shoot around league-average. The team shot 45.2 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three.

But the first half of March has seen their percentages skyrocket. On the month, Portland is going 48.5 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from beyond the arc. Both of those numbers are season highs.

Six of the seven rotation players that average at least one three-point attempt per game are shooting 40.0 percent or better from three. The seventh player, Lillard, is still shooting 34.9 percent from outside.

The Trail Blazers are also set to add more reinforcements as they continue to make strides.

Evan Turner is set to return after being out for over a month with a hand injury. He’ll be back just in time for Saturday’s matchup against the Atlanta Hawks.

This will be the first time that Turner will be on the floor with center Jusuf Nurkic. Nurkic was acquired after Turner was already sidelined. Both players are good facilitators, so there could be some good ball movement when they’re playing together.

The question will be how Turner will fit back into a rotation that has played mostly pretty well this month. Terry Stotts normally keeps a nine-man rotation. Turner’s spot has been filled by Shabazz Napier. Napier has brought great energy off the bench and has helped spell Lillard for long stretches. This rest has allowed Lillard to play well in late-game situations.

Will Stotts simply slot Turner back into the rotation and bench Napier, despite the benefits of the current setup? Or will Stotts expand the rotation to 10 players and subtract minutes from the wings and forwards? The rotation will be worth observing over Portland’s two games this weekend.

The Portland Trail Blazers are 6-2 this month. That record puts them in a third-place tie with the Denver Nuggets and the Miami Heat.

Portland’s 2-2 stretch dropped them from a half-game out of eighth to 2.5 games. The margin has increased because Denver is on a four-game winning streak. The streak includes back-to-back 129-point outputs against both Los Angeles franchises. They’ve won all of their games on this streak by double-digits.

But the gap could close by the beginning of next week. Denver has a home-and-home with the Houston Rockets on Saturday and Monday. Meanwhile, the Blazers will finish off their road trip against the Hawks and Heat on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

The fight is still on for the playoffs. The Blazers faced a controversial loss to the Washington Wizards and a drumming from the Pelicans. But they’ve fought back with a big win over the Spurs.

The Blazers have shot out of their mind, and could be getting another big piece for their next game. The Portland Trail Blazers will truly show what they’re made of depending on how they finish the last two games of their road trip.

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