Blazers Beat: Portland players eye rest, but still face Golden State and Sacramento first
What's ahead: After a Monday, March 1, game with Charlotte (update: 123-111 win), the Trail Blazers finish the NBA's first half and a three-game homestand with back-to-back games, 7 p.m. Wednesday against Golden State and 7 p.m. Thursday versus Sacramento.
Then, Damian Lillard heads to the NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta. (Update: He's skipping the the 3-point shooting contest). He'll play in the game at 5 p.m. Sunday, March 7. And, it's been confirmed that Robert Covington will be in the Skills Challenge and Anfernee Simons in the Slam Dunk Contest.
The Blazers begin the second half March 11 against Phoenix at home. When, oh when, do CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic return to help out Lillard & Co.?
What's behind: Devin Booker, Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns dealt Portland its worst loss of the season, 132-100 Feb. 22, which began the 0-3 Blazers road trip. Lillard had a bad minus-29 rating in the game.
The next night, Nikola Jokic had 41 points, Jamal Murray made 19 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter and Denver set an NBA record with only one turnover. (Murray lost the ball out of bounds in the second quarter). Of course, it could be looked at another way: The Blazers forced only one turnover. Lillard had 25 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds and Carmelo Anthony, playing back in the city where his NBA career began, scored 19 of his 24 points in the first half.
The Lakers outscored Portland 31-19 in the third quarter en route to a 102-93 win against Portland on Feb. 26. LeBron James had 28 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, four steals and three blocked shots. Lillard had 35 points. The Blazers shot .297 from the 3-point line (11 of 37), and the Lakers outscored Portland 52-30 in the paint, 23-13 on the fast break and 22-8 off turnovers.
Trent record: Gary Trent Jr. hit at least three 3-pointers pointers in 12 consecutive games, setting a Blazer record. His streak ended at the L.A. Lakers, making only two.
Crucial streak: By winning eight of nine games recently, the Blazers elevated themselves in the Western Conference standings, but also bought themselves some time to allow McCollum and Nurkic to get closer to returning to the lineup.
And, it was all done with injuries galore (including to Lillard). We could look back at the stretch of games, Feb. 2-17, as the key to the season.
The Blazers assured themselves of at least being above .500 heading into the All-Star break.
In the games before the break, "We gotta get through these next couple games before we can even think about the break," Covington said.
Break coming: The break gives players a chance to relax, although in past years many would fly off to sunny locales — including Mexico — for rest and relaxation.
Times are different with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Said coach Terry Stotts: "The policy is that we need to be apprised of where they plan to be. They're still required to test every day, and there are sites in every NBA city and Las Vegas. They're required to stay in the United States. There'll be stricter protocols once they get back from break. Guys will be doing different things. You'll see across the league more players staying in market than usual."
Portland players have discussed the break and for "everyone being smart and not doing anything that can jeopardize (the team) in the long run. We harped on everyone about being responsible," Covington said.
Second schedule: The Trail Blazers have a tough stretch to make the playoffs in the season's second half.
Then again, reinforcements should be on the way with the expected return of McCollum (foot) and Nurkic (wrist) at some point.
Of the 37 scheduled games, Portland has 10 back-to-back game situations, and faces, in the final 10 days, Western Conference foes Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio and Houston at the Moda Center, Utah and Phoenix on the road and then Denver at home May 16 to conclude the regular season.
The second half begins March 11 versus Phoenix at home, and then continues with two consecutive games at Minnesota, and then two each on the home court against New Orleans and Dallas.
After the New Orleans and Dallas games, the Blazers play Brooklyn (and James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant) at the Moda Center on March 23.
Of note, the Blazers play host to Boston and former Oregon star Payton Pritchard on April 13.
There'll be 19 games at Moda Center and 18 games on the road.
The Trail Blazers will embark on two extended road trips this spring: a four-game swing through Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Detroit from March 25-31 and a six-game trip to Indiana, Memphis, Brooklyn, Boston, Atlanta and Cleveland April 27-May 5.
All 37 of the announced games will be televised by NBC Sports Northwest (NBCSNW) and NBCSNW Rip City Radio AM-620.
Four of Portland's second-half games will appear on national television, with TNT broadcasting home games against New Orleans (March 16), Boston (April 13) and the Los Angeles Clippers (April 20), as well as a road game at Miami (March 25).
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