The Portland Trail Blazers are 3.5 games behind the 8th seeded Memphis Grizzlies. They’ll have a chance to narrow the gap on July 31st when two teams will match up against each other. It’ll be a must-win contest for Portland, as so will every one of the eight games left to play. But I’m telling you; that the first one is crucial. It’s the tone-setter for the rest of their bubble experience.
The Trail Blazers seem to be most people’s pick to pull off an upset if they were to make the post-season. What adds to their case is the fact that Jusuf Nurkić and Zach Collins are back in the lineup, and are participating in Blazers’ workouts in Orlando. Nurkić hadn’t played in the NBA game since his gruesome injury on March 25, 2019. Collins, on the other hand, suffered a dislocated shoulder three games into the 19-20 season, meaning that the Blazers played out the whole season without their two rotational big men. But it seems that’ll no longer be the case, as the duo is set to join their frontcourt partner in Hassan Whiteside, adding depth to their roster, making it more well-rounded. Or, in other words, more suitable for their post-season campaign.
And although they are all a crucial part of their collective success, the Blazers will once again depend on performances of their backcourt duo CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard. With no Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in the bubble, it’s on CJ and Dame to claim the title of NBA’s best backcourt partnership, if they hadn’t done it already. They’re both having an incredible year, and Blazers’ fans are hoping they’ll pick up right where they left off. Let me quickly remind you where they left off.
McCollum went on hiatus after having his best individual run of the season. In six games in Lillard’s absence, CJ averaged 33.3 points, 8.3 assists, and 5.3 boards. Unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, his efforts only brought them two wins over the span, but CJ was impressive nevertheless. His last game of the stretch was a 41 points outing in 130-107 victory over the Magic. After it, Lillard came back, which meant that CJ’s one-man show was over.
As far as Dame is concerned, he’s having a career year. Lillard is NBA’s fifth-leading scorer with 28.9, and he’s doing it shooting a career-high .457 from the floor. He’s also dishing out 7.8 assists – the most in his 8-year NBA career. Dame has elevated his play to another level, and the best proof of it is the historic six-game stretch he went on just before the All-Star break.
Over the span, Dame recorded 293 points, 43 rebounds, 61 assists, 7 steals, and 49 three-pointers. Put those numbers in per-game context, Lillard was putting up 48.8 points, 10.2 assists, and 7.2 rebounds during the streak, becoming the first player in NBA history to average 45 and 10 over a six-game span.
Since 1976-77, only James Harden has scored more points over a six-game stretch, and he did it twice. Lillard’s historic run is tied for third along with Kobe Bryant‘s from ’07. His 49 three-pointers made are the most over six games in NBA history, as he surpassed Steph Curry’s record of 46, adding another historical dimension to his run. Dame started the run setting the new franchise record with 61 points in an overtime victory vs. the Warriors. Over the next five games, he’s dropped 50 or more twice, not breaking the 47 mark once in the win against the Rockets. So how did Dame make that game historic? He recorded his first career triple-double. Not a bad way to do it. Lillard closed the run with a 51 points performance against the Jazz, leading Portland to a 124-107 victory. Oh, and btw, the Trail Blazers only lost once over those six games. Incredible!
As long as Lillard is in Portland, they’re in good hands. He’s shown it year after year, and he is doing it again this season. His backcourt duo CJ McCollum is also doing his part, and hopefully, he’ll pick up where he left off. With the duo of Nurkić and Collins coming back, they do look like a team you’d hate to go up against.
Whether they can pull off an upset, it’s hard to tell, especially since they’ll probably face one of the LA teams. But you never know. They’re in a better position than ever to do so. Especially if Dame hasn’t cooled off. Because if he goes on a similar run again, everything is possible. That’s Portland’s best bet – another ‘Dame Time’ stretch.