It's true there are far more important things going on right now than NBA basketball, but if any of us Portlanders are looking for a nice distraction, Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers are here to provide it. Yes, the Blazers are back, and their star player, Dame D.O.L.L.A, is the talk of the NBA "bubble." With the team facing elimination, Lillard dropped 51 points against Philadelphia and then, on the very next game, poured in an astonishing 61 points to secure a win against Dallas. And now, tonight (Thursday Aug 13) at 6 pm PST, the Blazers play the Brooklyn Nets in what Lillard has dubbed, "the most important game of our lives." Fasten your seat belts, Rip City!
In case you missed it, the NBA chose to restart its paused season down in Disney World, forming a COVID-free bubble which has been the site of both on- and off-court drama as players struggle to live within strict confines away from their homes and loved ones. Clippers' star Lou Williams was granted permission to break quarantine in order to attend his grandfather's funeral in Atlanta, but while he was there he decided to take a side trip to the famous Magic City strip club to pick up, he says, a take-out order of their famous hot wings. Caught mugging inside the club because of an ill-advised Instagram post, he was suspended for 10 days while he re-quarantined.
Anyway, it's been great having some actual live sports to watch. While the top tier teams have used these initial games to shake off the rust, our Trail Blazers have been fighting for their lives, just trying to make it into the playoffs. The Blazers started on the outside looking in, holding the 9th seed in an eight-team playoff picture. But behind Dame they have clawed their way to 8th place and tonight they must win to hold that spot. If the Blazers succeed, they enter into a somewhat convoluted "play-in" series versus the 9th seed for the right to take on the 1st place Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. Should they make it that far, then it's all hands on deck, Rip City.
You see, the Blazers are one of the few teams that actually caught a break when the pandemic hit. Their season was essentially over had things played out traditionally. But then everything was put on pause and their injured front court of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins got a chance to fully heal up. Now, with the restart, they are a dramatically different team than the one that was sinking fast in the west. They are seen as the "sleeper" team, the dark horse no one wants to meet in the playoffs. Even Charles Barkley thinks the Blazers have a chance against the Lakers:
Look, you don't have to have followed the Trail Blazers this season to get excited about this. We have a genuine basketball legend-in-the-making in our town. Right now, Lillard is captivating the nation with his passion and fury, doing things never before seen on a basketball court. Take a look at this crazy 35-foot shot from Tuesday's matchup, the bucket that iced the game and gave Lillard a career high 61 points:
There's so much to love about the audacious way the Blazers are facing the long odds. Once spurned superstar Carmelo Anthony is proving the haters wrong with his excellent team-centered play. Jusuf Nurkic has come back strong from his gruesome leg break last year. Former deep bench newcomer Gary Trent Jr. is unexpectedly leading the entire league in 3-point shooting since the restart. And now reports are out that Lillard's co-pilot, shooting guard CJ McCollum, is playing through a fractured L3 Vertebra. What?
It's a shame we can't all cheer together as one big happy crowd for this team, but root we will, in our own safe responsible way, for a Rip City miracle. Tune in to the big game tonight at 6 pm, Portland!
If you want a detailed breakdown of the various playoff scenarios which will be decided today, click here. And hey, let's not forget, Dame was one of first NBA players to join the BLM protests, seen here front and center at a march on the Morrison Bridge: