The Blazers have done it. Despite a stacked schedule, injuries, and in-game struggles, the Blazers secured a spot in the playoffs by posting an impressive 6-2 record in the bubble, clinching the 8 seed, and beating the 9th seeded Memphis Grizzlies in the play-in tournament. The Blazers will face the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs, with the first game coming this Tuesday at 6:00 pm PST.
With such a noteworthy performance, it’s only fair that the Blazers are recognized for their efforts. With that being said, lets take a look at their wild performance in the bubble.
Against All Odds
Coming in to the bubble, many sports sources didn’t see the Blazers as playoff contenders. ESPN gave them a 9% chance to make the playoffs. This may have been warranted, as the Blazers’ schedule was difficult. However, it’s clear that the additions of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins had a major impact on the team, and the Blazers went 6-2 in the bubble to secure the 8 seed. After beating the Grizzlies in the play-in tournament, the Blazers secured a spot in the playoffs.
One thing to note about this Blazers team is that they played to the level of their competition. Weak teams like the Nets and 76ers lost by 1 and 3 points respectively. Strong teams like the Mavericks, Nuggets, and Rockets lost by 3, 10, and 8 points respectively. Given that the Blazers will now be punching up in the playoffs, this may be a good thing. During the bubble, however, it was certainly stressful to watch.
Bubble Blazers Can’t Stop the Injury Bug
Just when it seemed as if the Blazers had caught a break, the injury bug bit Zach Collins and CJ McCollum. Collins is dealing with ankle inflammation, which kept him out of the second half of the play-in game, but he should recover in time for the playoffs.
CJ McCollum is another story. The man is currently playing with a small fracture in his back. While he can play through it, it is a painful and irritating injury, one that the team is likely taking precautions with. Despite this, CJ has been putting up good numbers in the bubble, despite a couple off nights.
In CJ’s (Mike Tyson’s) own words: “I broke my back! Spinal!”
Hopefully the Blazers can maintain their health before the NBA Bubble Playoffs.
Skinny Melo’s Redemption Tour
Carmelo Anthony hadn’t exactly been a revelation for the Portland Trail Blazers during the regular season. He averaged nearly as many shots as points, was a poor defender, and a poor playmaker.
When you compare that to his newest alter-ego, dubbed “Skinny Melo”, a lot of those flaws still stick out. His shot selection isn’t amazing, and his playmaking may have even regressed. He still over-helps on defense, which allows shooters to burn the Blazers.
But something about Melo is different now. While still streaky, especially with his shot, Melo seems to have no problem scoring over 20 points. He did so in 5 of the Blazers 9 bubble games (including the play-in game).
His rebounding has been even more energetic. His hustle has been incredible. Melo’s on ball defense has been a sight for sore eyes, and he’s been getting great deflections and steals off the ball.
His patented post-ups and turnaround seem to be falling more often than not now. His catch and shoot game has been ridiculous.
Most importantly, he’s been very reliable in the clutch. Melo has made multiple clutch threes in the bubble games, and his unwavering confidence in his clutch-time shooting has been nothing short of incredible.
The Bosnian Beast Has Returned
Jusuf Nurkic reclaimed the starting Center position when he returned, and his numbers have been nothing short of impressive, especially in the playmaking department. While he seems to be lacking touch around the rim, his range has expanded, and he seems to be a potential floor stretcher.
Throughout the 8 seeding games, Nurkic averaged 17.6 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.4 steals, and 2.0 blocks on 49.5/20/88.6 shooting splits.
In the play-in game, Nurkic dropped 22 points, 21 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks per game.
Jusuf’s impact is felt across all parts of the game, and the Blazers might not be here without him.
In Memory of Jusuf’s Grandmother, Hana
Unfortunately, hours before the play-in game, Jusuf Nurkic’s grandmother, Hana, passed away due to COVID-19 related complications.
Please make sure to keep Nurkic and his family in your thoughts, and please stay safe and keep others safe by taking the necessary precautions during this time.
Blazers’ Bench Beasts in the Bubble: Hassan Whiteside and Gary Trent Jr.
Hassan Whiteside and Gary Trent Jr. have been the biggest pieces off the bench for the Blazers.
Whiteside, while streaky in the bubble, provides good defense and rebounding off the bench. His effort has improved noticeably, and he’s not pouting about his minutes being reduced. His performance against the Nets was admirable, and the Blazers would be heading home without it.
GTJ has been an absolute revelation in the bubble. He averaged about 16 points a game throughout the seeding and play-in games, and he was an absolute flamethrower from three. When him, Lillard, Carmelo, and McCollum were all on the court, the offense looked nearly unstoppable. Most importantly, however, Gary Trent Jr. has been an incredible perimeter defender and hustle player. This was exemplified in the play-in game, where he had 5 steals and 2 blocks.
For a team in dire need of some defense and bench production, Hassan Whiteside and Gary Trent Jr. have stepped up admirably.
Dame Time. All the Time.
Damian Lillard was named the unanimous KIA Player of the Seeding Games, and was named unanimously to the All Bubble First Team.
Dame posted 4 games of 40 or more points, and not one game under 21 points. In the last five games, he scored 45, 22, 51, 61, and 42 points. Save for the 22 point game against the Clippers (which included 2 pivotal missed free throws), Lillard was an absolute beast. In the first three games, he put up 29, 30, and 21 as well. Bubble Dame averaged 37.6 points per game on nearly 50/44/89 shooting splits. In the play in game, Lillard had 31 points on 15 shot attempts. Over the seeding and play-in games, Damian hit 49 triples, or about 5.4 per game.
Dame also stepped up his playmaking even more. His lowest assist game was 5, and he had over 8 assists in 6 of the 8 seeding games, and had 10 assists in the play-in game. In the seeding games, Lillard averaged 9.6 assists per game.
On defense, Lillard was a leader. He played a pivotal part in stopping Ja Morant in the game against Memphis, held Tatum to 3/9 when he played the Celtics, held Westbrook and Harden to a combined 2/9 against Houston, held Paul George and Marcus Morris to a combined 1/4 against the Clippers, and came up with possibly a season saving steal on Caris LeVert in the win or go home game against the Brooklyn Nets. If Lillard is able to match this intensity, watch out.
Blazers History: Dame’s Incredible 2019-20 NBA Season.
On the entire season, Lillard finished with averages of 30.0 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game, 8.0 assists per game, 1.1 steals per game, and 0.3 blocks per game. He had a 62.7 TS%, with 46.3/40.1/88.8 shooting splits, and only took 20.4 shots per game. Ranked by TS%, Lillard posted the 6th most efficient 30 point per game season of all time, behind only Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Adrian Dantley.
Damian Lillard set a record for most points per game by a Blazer, had the 2 highest scoring stretches a Blazer, set the record for most 3 pointers made by a Blazer (He holds all the top 6 positions in Blazers history), became the only Blazer and one of two players ever to shoot 40+% from 3 on 10 or more attempts per game, and set a slew of other personal, Blazers, and NBA records.
The Blazers had an impressive run, and deserve their spot in the playoffs. Multiple players have stepped up and adopted a winning mentality. In the face of injuries and doubters, the Blazers stepped up and proved that they belong. While taking down the #1 seeded Los Angeles Lakers is a very, very tall order, the Blazers will no doubt come in ready to play.
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