Will Damian Lillard’s Return Save the Portland Trail Blazers? Best Prices on Trail Blazers Tickets!

The Portland Trail Blazers are within reach of that eighth and final playoff seed in the West, but time is quickly running out. They haven’t been winning enough games without Damian Lillard on the court, but he’s supposed to be back in action on Wednesday. The Blazers are only 3.5 games out of the playoffs, but that’s a lot for this late in the season. So is it too late for Portland to make a crazy playoff push? With only a 15% chance at making it to the postseason, many would say yes. But let’s look at how things are shaping up for the Trail Blazers.

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Can Lillard give them the boost they need?

Damiam Lillard has missed six games with a groin strain, and his team has only managed to pull off two victories without him. The five-time All-Star is a huge loss to the team this late in the season, but the good news is he’ll be back. (Apparently he didn’t hear a “pop” in his groin when he was injured.) Lillard has been averaging 29.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 7.9 assists this season, and he’s also shooting 46% from the field, 39.3% from the three, and 88.9 percent from the free-throw line, so his injury really affects the scoreboard.

The Blazers have survived his absence, but just barely. While some teams thrive without their star player – with key players stepping up to fill roles – it’s clear that Portland isn’t one of those teams. At 27th, their defensive rating is one of the worst in the NBA – only the Cavs, Hawks, and Wizards rank below them. They’ve got Hassan Whiteside to block shots and snag rebounds – he had a big week with 19 points, 16 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game – but it’s not enough. The team defense has struggled both with and without Lillard on the court.

Meanwhile, CJ McCollum has tried to carry the offensive load and done an outstanding job. He averaged 33.3 points, 8.3 assists, and 5.3 rebounds in the six games Lillard was away (higher than Lillard’s season numbers if you’ll notice). In the end, though, it didn’t matter. Without their franchise player, the Blazers dropped three games last week, including one to the lowly Hawks, losing valuable ground in that race to the eighth seed. McCollum did manage to pull off a win on Monday to snap the team’s losing streak, however, scoring a ridiculous 41 points against the Magic.

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Keep chopping wood. Perspective. Happy Friday.

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Obstacles to Gaining Ground?

The Trail Blazers are the worst in scoring off the bench in the NBA. Granted, they’ve got a super young team, but in those games without Lillard, they only averaged 19.8 points off the bench – worse than their season average of 26.6 points. McCollum seemed exhausted carrying the team like that last week, and it remains to be seen whether he and Lillard (seemingly) alone will be enough to pull off the necessary wins to make the playoffs. While the other starters like Whiteside, Carmelo Anthony, and Rodney Hood are helping to put up some points, their hot-shooting guards clearly need some extra support. 

Even if Lillard plays amazing for the rest of the season and even if the Blazers can rack up the necessary wins over the next few weeks, they still have a handful of teams breathing down their necks. They’ve got to hope the Pelicans, Spurs, and Kings don’t get too hot. Despite the fact that the Trail Blazers have a relatively easy remaining schedule, making the playoffs will still be a tall order for Portland. 

The Trail Blazers take on the Washington Wizards tonight at home, and if they want to add another very necessary tally to their wins column, they’ll need to contain sharpshooter Bradley Beal, who has averaged 36.9 points per game over his last 15 games. Next up, the Blazers will hit the road to play the Phoenix Suns on Friday. Then they’ll return to Portland for six home games in a row, beginning with the Sacramento Kings on Saturday.

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What do you think? Will Portland catch Memphis to make the playoffs?