As high school basketball season draws to a close and the local teams have bowed out, and as the NCAA basketball season has a staggering amount of FBI involvement, it’s time to check in with the team up north: those Portland Trail Blazers. Whether you are an avid Pat Connaughton fan or just someone who vaguely pays attention to what’s going on in Rip City, now is the time to lock-in on the NBA.
Having worked in Cottage Grove for the last nine months, I’m still unsure as to what the NBA following is like here. At high school games and basketball camps, it is clear is there is certainly at least some level of interest. It is hard to be in those settings and not see at least one person repping the Warriors or Celtics at all times. There is at least some love of the NBA. But regardless of how you feel, there is no better time to be a fan then in this present moment.
With just over a month to play in the regular season, the Western Conference is in an outright frenzy. To recap: as of this writing just 2.5 games separate the three seed and the ninth seed. The margin for error over the final month is razor-thin.
Amidst the chaos across the standings, it has been the Blazers momentarily making a charge as they climb to the top of the second-tier teams. Sitting in third place in the standings, the Blazers are playing like a legitimate team that can win a first-round series and then lose in six games to the Rockets or Warriors in the second round. While from an outside perspective that seem like a sad best-case scenario for a franchise, it seems important to note that the Blazers were swept by the Warriors last season in the first round and lost to them in five games two seasons ago. A six-game series would be a momentary milestone.
Winners of eight of their last nine (which could easily become 10 of their last 11 if Portland can get past the Lakers and Knicks on Monday and Tuesday night) Portland has picked a good time to be playing their best basketball. As always, leading the way has been the immaculate Damian Lillard. Averaging 31.4 points and 6.7 assists in February, Lillard has risen to new levels of dominance.
While it all starts with Dame, it has been a team effort as the Blazers have created depth extending beyond their backcourt. Of course there is Dame and CJ but now there is Moe Harkless who has worked back as a contributing member of the rotation. Most promising of all, there is the seven-foot 20-year old Zach Collins who played 28 minutes against the Thunder last week and finished with 12 points and five rebounds.
While the view through these rose-city colored glasses looks good now, the road to the end of the season does not get easier. With two games against Houston, a game against Boston and four of their last five games on the road, there are many ways for this season to finish and most of them do not include finishing third.
But that is not what is important now. Now it is time to enjoy this lovably-imperfect team in the last month of the season.