The Portland Trail Blazers are ready for their close-up.
With a win over the Denver Nuggets, the Blazers secured a berth in the 2021 NBA Playoffs. They become the sixth Western Conference team to do so, joining the Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, LA Clippers, Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks.
Let's break down what it all means for the Blazers.
Consistency is key
The Blazers are heading to the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season.
Why is that notable? It's the longest active streak in the NBA.
The Rockets entered this season with the longest active playoff streak, but they have been eliminated from playoff contention. The Toronto Raptors were tied with the Blazers for the second-longest streak behind the Rockets, but the Raptors have been eliminated from playoff contention as well.
The last time the Blazers missed the playoffs was the 2012-13 season when Damian Lillard was a rookie. There isn't another player from that team still on the roster.
The Blazers have made it out of the first round three times over the last seven seasons, including a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2019, where they fell to the Golden State Warriors. The Blazers are set for a first-round matchup with the Denver Nuggets (47-25) this postseason.
It's Dame Time
Lillard has always been known for his late-game exploits, but he's been ridiculous by even his standards this season.
According to NBA.com , Lillard entered Sunday's matchup with the Nuggets leading the league in scoring in the clutch - the last five minutes of a five-point game - with a total of 162 points. He's been incredibly efficient in those situations, shooting 45-for-88 (51.1 percent) from the field, 18-for-46 (39.1 percent) from 3-point range and 54-for-57 (94.7 percent) from the free throw line.
That's not a matter of stat-padding either. Lillard has hit big shot...
...after big shot...
...after big shot...
...after big shot.
Led by Lillard, the Blazers won 24 of their 37 games that went down to the wire. Only the Brooklyn Nets ( 27 ), Philadelphia 76ers (25) and Phoenix Suns (25) had more clutch wins than them on the season.
Portland's success late in games is a big reason why it was able to keep its head above water during the time CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic missed time with injuries and why its been able to dodge the Play-In Tournament.
It's been Dame Time all the time this season.
Offence > defence?
Offence hasn't been the problem for Portland this season. Scoring at a rate of 116.9 points per 100 possessions , the Blazers had the second-highest offensive rating in the league this season, trailing only the Brooklyn Nets ( 117.2 ).
It starts with Lillard, but McCollum is having one of the best seasons of his career, entering Sunday's contest with averages of 23.1 points and a career-best 4.7 assists per game. Norman Powell has fit in like a glove since the Blazers acquired him at the trade deadline and Carmelo Anthony has given them a scoring punch off the bench, averaging 13.4 points per game.
It's the other end of the court where the Blazers have had issues.
In giving up 115.3 points per 100 possessions , the Blazers had the second-worst defensive rating in the league this season. The only team worse? The Sacramento Kings ( 116.4 ).
It was a similar story last season, when the Blazers ranked third in offence ( 113.2 ) and 27th ( 114.3 ) in defence.
The Blazers at least have some more defensive-minded players this season. In addition to a healthy Jusuf Nurkic, they have two respected wing defenders in Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. They also recently signed Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who was the most versatile defender in the league last season.
Time will tell if that's enough for the Blazers to go on an extended run in a Western Conference that has no shortage of offensive firepower.
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