The 2019-20 NBA season went on hiatus on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic . The season will return on July 30 and NBA.com‘s writers are taking an updated look at each of the league’s 30 teams.
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Record: 29-37, No. 9 in Western Conference
Season summary: Unfortunately, the Blazers’ season has been defined by injuries, starting with the one — Jusuf Nurkic’s broken leg — that took place last March and has kept their second most important player from playing at all this season. The Blazers have also lost Zach Collins, Rodney Hood and Skal Labissiere along the way (although Labissiere was traded to Atlanta on Feb. 6). We’ve seen the best stretch of Damian Lillard’s career, the Blazers have remained in the top 10 in offensive efficiency and have actually had the league’s best offense (111.4 points scored per 100 possessions in 20 games) vs. top 10 defenses. But with a bottom-five defense (they allowed a league-high 116.5 points per 100 possessions between Christmas and the season’s hiatus), the Blazers have seen the league’s second biggest drop in winning percentage from last season. They still had a shot at a seventh straight playoff berth, and Nurkic’s return would have addressed their biggest issues. But the season was put on hiatus just as the big man was set to play his first game in a year and just as the Blazers were entering an easy stretch of schedule.
Breakout player: Gary Trent Jr. played just 111 total minutes as a rookie (and not at all in the playoffs) and wasn’t in the rotation to start the season. But the Blazers’ injuries provided the 21-year-old with an opportunity and he showed improvement as the season progressed. Over a 19-game stretch from Jan. 18 through Mar. 2, Trent averaged 13.5 points on an effective field goal percentage of 60%. That stretch started with a career-high 30 points in Oklahoma City and ended with 24 in a win in Orlando. Trent is undersized (6-foot-5) for a wing and he doesn’t get to the basket or to the free throw line much. Only 13% of his shots, the 14th lowest rate among 229 players with at least 300 field goal attempts, have come in the restricted area. His free throw rate (10.3 attempts per 100 shots from the field) is the seventh-lowest among that same group. But as an above-average 3-point shooter (38.8%), he can complement the Blazers’ guards offensively.
Statement win: The Blazers are just 10-21 against the 13 teams that went into the hiatus with winning records. But four of those 10 wins — against the Pacers, Rockets, Lakers and Jazz — came in the span of seven days, part of the stretch in which Lillard was at another level. The Blazers were at a rest disadvantage for the last of the four, playing the second game of a back-to-back (after an emotional night in L.A. in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s death) and with the Jazz waiting for them in Portland on Feb. 1. The Jazz took an early 13-point lead, but the Blazers put together a 12-0 run to end the first quarter, a 15-0 run to end the second quarter, a 13-0 run midway through the third, and a 9-0 run midway through the fourth to put the game away. Lillard led the way with 51 points (giving him 99 total in the span of 27 hours) and 12 assists, shooting 9-for-15 from 3-point range. Hassan Whiteside outplayed Rudy Gobert, scoring 17 points, grabbing 21 rebounds, and blocking three shots. The winning streak and Lillard’s ridiculous scoring run would end in Denver three nights later.
Most compelling game: The Blazers’ early-January, five-game trip included losses in New York and Minnesota. But it also included, perhaps, their most thrilling win on Jan. 7 against Toronto. The Raptors were short-handed (without Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Norman Powell), but they led by seven with 2 1/2 minutes to go. Then the Blazers scored 11 points on their next four possessions, with Lillard tying the game on a 35-foot, pull-up 3 with 37.5 seconds left. The Raptors got three chances at regaining the lead, but Whiteside blocked one shot and altered another before Patrick McCaw threw a pass out of bounds with 13.6 seconds on the clock. After a timeout, the Raptors denied Lillard the ball, so Carmelo Anthony inbounded to CJ McCollum, who couldn’t shake Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. He passed it back to Anthony, who didn’t hesitate, attacking OG Anunoby’s close-out with two hard dribbles to his left and rising up for a 17-footer above the foul line. The game-winner, points Nos. 27 and 28 for Anthony against the champs, dropped in with 3.3 seconds left. The Blazers forced Kyle Lowry into a tough shot on the other end of the floor and came away with a 101-99 victory.
Memorable moments: From Nov. 25-29, Anthony atoned for a slow start in Portland in Games 4-6 with the team. During that span, Anthony averaged 22.3 points on an effective field goal percentage of 62.7% and, most important, the Blazers won all three games. Anthony was named Western Conference Player of the Week. …
Six days after Lillard’s 51-point performance in Portland, the Blazers and Jazz met again in Salt Lake City on Feb. 7. This one went down to the wire and after Donovan Mitchell put the Jazz up two with a drive past Caleb Swanigan, the Blazers called timeout and ran a pick-and-roll for Lillard. Rudy Gobert ventured well beyond the 3-point line to defend the action, but Lillard split the defenders, squeezed past the help from Royce O’Neale, and laid the ball off the glass. Gobert recovered, but was too late, deflecting the ball away after it had already hit off the backboard, a clear goaltending violation … except that it wasn’t called. After Bojan Bogdanovic missed one of two at the line, the Blazers still had a chance to tie, but were out of timeouts and when Anthony was double-teamed, the only available shot was a corner 3-pointer from Swanigan that was too long. … From Jan. 20 to Feb. 1, it was Dame Time. Lillard scored 34 points in back-to-back games in Dallas and Oklahoma City on Jan. 17 and 18, but he was just getting warmed up for the real show. Returning home, Lillard dropped 61 (the most in a game for any player this season) in a win over the Warriors. After he scored 47 in a loss to Dallas, the Blazers had their best stretch of the season. Lillard scored 50, 36, 48 and 51 points as Portland beat the Pacers, Rockets, Lakers and Jazz. The six game stretch: 48.8 points (on an effective field goal percentage of 69.3%), 7.2 rebounds and 10.2 assists per game. “I’ve never,” Lillard said, “been in this type of rhythm in my life.” Few have.
Team MVP: Lillard has been so prolific and so important to the Blazers (on offense, at least) that he might show up on some Kia MVP ballots (voters list their top five) despite Portland’s place in the standings. His 36.9 minutes per game lead the league and he’s one of three players in the top six in both points (28.9, fifth) and assists (7.8, sixth) per game. His true shooting percentage of 61.9% is a career-best mark and the third-highest mark among 40 players with a usage rate of 25% or higher. His ability to shoot off the dribble is one of the league’s most dangerous weapons. Lillard has an effective field goal percentage of 55.3% on pull-up jumpers, the best mark among 139 players who have attempted at least 100. He ranks second with 13.5 pick-and-roll ball-handler possessions per game and the 1.14 points per possession he’s scored on ball-handler possessions is the best mark among 56 players who have averaged at least five per contest. The Blazers have the league’s third biggest differential between their winning percentage in clutch games (16-13, .552) and that in non-clutch games (13-24, .351), and Lillard has obviously been their go-to guy down the stretch. He’s tied for the league lead with seven baskets (on 12 attempts) to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime. And he really should have eight.
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