Portland Trail Blazers

Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers building momentum in preparation for tough stretch run

"It's starting to feel like we're starting to put it together at the right time of the year," Damian Lillard said postgame after the Trail Blazers defeated the Nets 128-109.

This was Portland's third straight victory, all on the road, after a 11-game stretch where they only recorded two wins. Thus, making this their longest win streak since they won four straight at the end of March.

It's also their third straight win by at least 19, coming off a 133-112 win in Indiana and a 130-109 victory in Memphis.

"The last three games that we have been on this streak, we've just been defending a lot better," Lillard added.

For the season, their defensive rating (29th) and average points allowed (24th) ranks them in the bottom tier of the league and despite the small sample size, the numbers look much better through these last three games.

Another reason to celebrate in Brooklyn was Lillard's return to his All-NBA standard of play.

He finished with game-high tallies of 32 points and nine assists, breaking an 11-game season-high streak of not scoring 30 or more. During the 11 games, he averaged 21.4 points while shooting 36.3 percent from the field and 33.3% from beyond the arc.

In this one, he shot 12-of-22 (54.5 percent) from the field and knocked down eight 3-pointers, the most he's nailed since March 4, at an efficiency of 61.5 percent.

"I haven't been my most healthy this year," Lillard shared postgame. "[It's] Probably been my most difficult season physically."

Prior to the slump, during which he also sat out three games while dealing with a hamstring injury, Lillard was in the MVP conversation having pulled the short-handed Trail Blazers (without CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic) through multiple games with heroics in 'Dame Time'.

Currently, in seventh, this win takes Portland to a record of 35-28, just a half-game behind the Dallas Mavericks, a team against whom the Trail Blazers own the tiebreaker.

To avoid the Play-In tournament, they need to finish at least sixth which would mean leapfrogging the Mavericks, who have the fourth-easiest remaining schedule while the Trail Blazers have the eighth-toughest.

"Our team was at that point where we're either gonna fall apart or we gonna dig out, come together and get ourselves right," said Lillard. "I think we're showing some signs of going in the right direction and that starts with the defensive end for us."

Portland has a couple of winnable games remaining on this road trip in Atlanta and Cleveland but the remainder of their schedule is packed with contests against the West's elite in the Nuggets, Lakers, Suns, and the Jazz.

Can the Trail Blazers finish at least sixth to avoid the Play-in tournament with a good end to the season? Only time will tell but with this three-game streak and Lillard's inevitable return to form, they have given themselves the chance.

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