The Portland Trail Blazers won five games in a row near the end of the NBA regular season. They very nearly beat the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns in back-to-back road games. Damian Lillard is leading his team on a late-season charge, and he matter-of-factly reacted to this positive plot twist for Portland.
Damian Lillard: “As a team, we had our tough stretch and we came out of us. We’re playing the kind of basketball we want to play at the right time.”
— Sean Highkin (@highkin) May 15, 2021
The Blazers and Lillard have just one game left in the NBA regular season on Sunday evening against the Denver Nuggets. Given that the Nuggets would want to avoid the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs, Denver should have very little interest in wanting to win that game, because a Denver victory could push the Nuggets up to the No. 3 seed while also potentially giving the Lakers the No. 6 seed, matching the two teams in the first round.
The Lakers would have to still beat the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday, and the Los Angeles Clippers still have a game left against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but a Nuggets win over the Blazers would at least keep a Denver-Lakers matchup within the realm of possibility. The Nuggets are therefore highly unlikely to go all-out in the pursuit of a victory in the Pacific Northwest.
The Blazers and their fans probably weren’t expecting this two weeks ago, but now they can believe it: They are likely to avoid the play-in round and thereby get a week of rest ahead of the first round of the playoffs. That ability to rest for a week is valuable, since this compressed pandemic season has crammed a lot of NBA games into a relatively short period of time. The health of every NBA team is a paramount concern and plot point heading into the playoffs, with high-profile stars such as James Harden of the Nets, LeBron James and Anthony Davis of the Lakers, and Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz (among others) missing significant amounts of time during the regular season.
The Blazers’ late tear through their schedule, led by Damian Lillard, won’t merely give them a playoff berth; it is on the verge of giving them the rest they need to recharge for the postseason confrontations which are just around the corner.