When the Portland Trail Blazers went into the Pepsi Center to face off against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, it was a matchup between two teams headed in opposite directions.
When the Portland Trail Blazers went into the Pepsi Center to face off against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, it was a matchup between two teams headed in opposite directions. Denver will get its playoff run started less than a week from now, with home-court advantage in the first round. The Blazers, on the other hand, will be watching the action unfold on television for the second year in a row. As a result, there was much more on the line for the Nuggets, who were fighting to improve their position in the standings with just a few games left in the regular season, while Portland was simply looking to stop the bleeding from a 10-game losing streak.
Make that an 11-game losing streak.
The Nuggets have been nearly unbeatable at home all year, and showed why against an undermanned and outmatched Blazer squad, rolling to a 118-109 win.
It would be easy to look back on this season as a failure for the Blazers, who came into their 2012–13 campaign with high expectations.
But a little perspective is in order. Portland has had to do more with less for most of the season, competing without their best players for extended periods of time and starting three or more rookies a game down the stretch. It’s understandable that Blazer fans will be hanging their heads low as the playoffs begin. There are still plenty of reasons to rejoice, though, starting with the product of last season’s disappointing run, the number-six pick in the NBA draft out of Weber State University.
It’s clear by now that Damian Lillard is special. And not just Rookie-of-the-Year special, although he’s as much of a lock to win the award this year as anyone has ever been. Lillard—who was something of a question mark at the beginning of the season, as scouts and analysts were unsure about how his game would translate to the professional level—is proving that he has what it takes to compete in the NBA. If his first year in the league is any indication, Lillard is the sort of player that will not only be able to contribute to the team going forward but may actually become the centerpiece of Portland’s strategy and success.
For fans of professional basketball in Portland, it’s hard to accept that this is a team of the future. It seems as though we have been swallowing that pill for a long time now. But for some reason, this roster seems different. The team managed to make something out of nothing this year, and even threatened to make a run at a playoff spot. How would the season have turned out if the Blazers actually had some bench production to fall back on? Or a reliable interior presence? Or simply a matching lineup from one night to the next?
Maybe I’m just falling into that same routine that the hometown fan always relies on: the future is bright, there’s always next year, all the team needs is a bit of rest and rehab over the offseason and a few lucky breaks in the draft to get back on track. Maybe, but it doesn’t feel like that anymore. The Blazers are headed to the lottery again in June, but it definitely feels like we’ve already cashed in.