THE PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS are good as hell, and it's amazing. As I'm writing this they've won five games in a row. They've won 10 of their last 11 games. By the time this column goes to print, it'll probably be six games in a row. (The Trail Blazers are facing off against the Brooklyn Nets, a team so notoriously bad and inept that it'd be downright un-Christian to make fun of them.)
The team's relentless surge is fueled by its freewheeling, box-score-stuffing backcourt. Chocolate Jesus (CJ) McCollum has gone full-blown deus ex machina this year. He can score from anywhere on the basketball court. I'm pretty sure he's hit meaningful shots while enjoying an espresso at the café inside Powell's. The one in Beaverton. During an away game.
Damian Lillard was left off the All-Star team, and responded to that snub by pouring in 51 points in a startling victory against the historically dominant Golden State Warriors. That Lillard internalized and thrived on the slight isn't surprising, he's made an entire career out of soaring over low expectations. What is surprising is that he was left off the All-Star team in the first place. He's one of just a few players in the league who rates in the top 10 in both scoring and assists. He's the best player on a team that is firmly entrenched in the playoff hunt.
The very idea that Lillard isn't an All-Star seemingly stems from the pre-season identity of the Trail Blazers, which was that they were going to be bad... really, really, really bad. Smart people thought they were going to be one of the worst teams in the league. People who get paid to have opinions about basketball, and rightfully so, thought Lillard would be putting up good stats on a terrible team. The narrative was the Blazers would suck and wait for next year. That narrative is broken.
The Portland Trail Blazers are good as hell, and it's awful. The team isn't just defying expectations that they'd be bad, they're defying expectations that they'd get a good draft pick and be able to build for the future. The team is good, yeah; they're good enough. They're good enough to be this good and never really get any better. They're good enough to attract past-their-prime free agents on bloated contracts. They're good enough to lose in the second round of the playoffs. They're good enough to be exactly as good as the Blazers have been for 95 percent of my adult life. CJ was an injury rags-to-basketball-riches story, and the Blazers could hope for that from another player, but that's a lot to hope for. We might be stuck here.
So the Blazers are good, and it's good, and they're good, and it's bad. More important than anything, though, the Blazers are fun. They're fun to watch, they're fun to root for, and it's gratifying to watch them stride undaunted through the muck of expectations. The team may be in limbo, but for a few beautiful moments it will touch heaven, and for me, that's enough.
Go Blazers, keep fuckin' 'em up.