Portland notched the win despite 45 points from MVP candidate Russell Westbrook. The Blazers managed to stave off an 8-1 OKC rally late in the fourth quarter that cut their lead to one point with 17 seconds left.
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They also managed to overcome an insane Taj Gibson cross-court shot that gave the Thunder a 60-57 advantage at the half.
This win was crucial for Portland and their aspirations to get into the playoffs. The Trail Blazers went 2-7 in February, losing ground on the eighth-place Denver Nuggets.
Damian Lillard also had a bad February. Though he is on a 46-game double-digit scoring streak, he suffered some rough shooting nights during the month. Lillard’s 40.1 percent from the floor made February his worst shooting month this season.
Lillard shot 4-for-20 from the field in a 108-104 loss to the Mavericks. He went 6-of-21 in the loss against Atlanta. But Lillard’s worst performance was his 3-for-19 outing in the loss at Utah.
Thursday’s win gets a 17-game March going on the right foot. It also helped Portland leapfrog the idle Sacramento Kings and take ninth place in the conference.
Portland has seen improvement after returning from the All-Star break, going 2-2 since then. Lillard seems to be back on track, averaging 32.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 6.0 assists over the past four games.
Lillard scored 33 points against Oklahoma City on Thursday, and also had 33 in Portland’s 112-103 win at the Orlando Magic. He even had a near triple-double of 34 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in the overtime loss to Detroit.
In addition to Lillard’s stellar play of late, Jusuf Nurkic is proving to be a good mid-season pick-up. Nurkic is averaging 14.0 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 3.8 assists over his first five games in Portland.
The win over Oklahoma City was Nurkic’s Moda Center debut as a Blazer. He beasted with 18 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and five blocks on the night.
It was his second double-double in five games, as he also had 12 points and 12 rebounds to go with five assists in the win against the Magic. He also had 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the Detroit game.
Lillard and Nurkic have been great in their handful of games together. In their admittedly small sample size, their plus-11.0 net rating is tops among all Blazer duos this season that average more than 15 minutes together per game.
The question is can the Lillard-Nurkic connection, or any Blazer lineup, hold up over the remaining 16 games on the schedule this month?
Mar 2, 2017; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic (27) blocks the shot of Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) during the first half of the game at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports
March is setting up to be an arduous month for the Portland Trail Blazers. In addition to the sheer number of games, they will also face their last big road test. From March 6-19, the Blazers will play seven of their nine games on the road.
This includes a five-game road trip from the March 12-19.
The Blazers haven’t traveled well this year. Portland is 10-22 on the road this season, including going 1-3 on their four-game trip to end February. They have already had two other five-game road trips: one each in November and December. Portland finished both with 1-4 records.
The December five-gamer was part of a stretch that saw them play eight of nine games on the road. The Blazers went 1-7 in the road games, and picked up a 114-95 win at home over Oklahoma City in between.
However, once Portland gets past their March road trip, 10 of their remaining 12 games this year will be at home. The Blazers are 15-13 at the Moda Center this season.
Portland will have to get through March without big man Ed Davis. The team announced Wednesday that he would undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder. He is expected to be out for the rest of the season.
However, the team should be getting back some depth at the wing position. The Oregonian reported Feb. 28 that Evan Turner, currently recovering from a fractured right hand, will have his cast removed on Friday. Turner wants to get back to playing within “a week or so.”
The Portland Trail Blazers have fallen behind in their pursuit of eighth place due to a heartbreaking 2-7 February record. However, they have plenty of games in March in which to make up ground.
Lillard and Nurkic will be the X-factors in rather or not the Blazers can turn the corner. But strong, consistent play across the board could be enough to separate Portland from the rest of the pack that is seeking the last playoff spot in the West.