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On the list of possible ways the Trail Blazers could have ended 2015, winning three in a row without Damian Lillard had to have been near the bottom. This team is built around Dame. He’s the gas in the engine. Cut off the head and body will die.

And yet somehow, inexplicably, here we are. Dame who? The Blazers blitzed the Cavs, outlasted the Kings, and took down a plucky Denver Nuggets squad last night in Will Barton’s return to the Moda Center. Three wins! The Blazers should be losing by like 50 a night without Lillard on the court, but somehow this team is finding a way. Thank you based Santa for the Christmas gifts.

It certainly helps that CJ McCollum has gone supernova. After his epic near triple-double against the Kings, he dropped a quiet, ho-hum 29 points on just 19 shots to pace Portland last night. If it wasn’t for the success of the People’s Champ manning Denver’s bench, CJ would have the most improved player award on lock.

Allen Crabbe has masterfully filled in as the starting two guard. His solid outside shooting is the pressure relief valve on Portland’s offense. Late in the game, after Denver rallied from 16 down with an 11-0 run to make it a game, it was an out of timeout play run for Crabbe for a corner three that all but sealed Portland’s win. Sure, the whole thing was set up by the attention Denver’s defense had to pay to CJ, but that shot was going to Crabbe the whole way and he drained it with ease.

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Even with Crabbe inserted into the starting lineup, Portland’s bench held their own again last night. Meyers Leonard, he of the recently found outside stroke and always found handsomeness, drained a couple of threes and finished with double-digit points for the third straight game. Moe Harkless added a couple threes and some much needed hustle. Tim Frazier drained a three and, even better, the offense didn’t tank when he helmed the non-CJ minutes.

It would be one thing if it was just CJ doing an Iverson-lite impersonation, but everyone is contributing. It’s not always pretty—check out Al-Farouq Aminu nearly getting the ball stripped on a fast break, yet somehow managing to dribble behind his back in traffic to find Harkless for a transition dunk—but it’s working. There is confidence being built here. This team can win, and things will only get better once their superstar returns.

Denver was on their fourth game in five nights and somehow Will Freaking Barton is their best player, so it’s not like the competition level was all that tough. Still, the Blazers sit just one game out from the right to be swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Warriors. They take on the Utah Jazz, the team in front of them in the standings, tonight. What a way to bring in the new year.