Photo / Bruce Ely

Finally In Playoff Position, The Real Work Begins For Blazers

by Cody Sharrett

When mid-March rolls around each NBA season, the old cliché of 'scoreboard watching' begins to dominate the questions asked of coaches and players after practices and in the locker room as the games dwindle and playoff races intensify. Sunday night, cliché or not, the Portland Trail Blazers were in fact scoreboard watching as the eighth-place Denver Nuggets fell to the New Orleans Pelicans while the Blazers were in the process of a blowout win over the Los Angeles Lakers. 

"I didn’t know [Denver lost] until I came out the game," Portland guard Damian Lillard admitted to reporters following his team's 97-81 win over LA. "I came out the game, I saw they had the scoreboard up there. When I came out of the game, I looked up there and I saw it, and I was like, ‘Ok, we’re where we wanted to be.’"

Lillard had even texted former teammate and Pelicans guard Tim Frazier, along with New Orleans' All-Star big man Anthony Davis, earlier in the afternoon from Los Angeles with the simple request of spoiling the Nugget's visit to the Big Easy. The Pelicans followed through on Lillard's request to give the Blazers the opportunity to move into eighth place by virtue of head-to-head tiebreakers with a win over the Lakers.

"They both said, ‘I got you,’ so I guess they’re a man of their word," Lillard joked after Portland had seized its own opportunity to move back into the playoff picture with Sunday's victory. 

Though the Blazers had been on the outside looking in, sinking to as many as 10 games under .500 in February, the work is far from over. Portland currently rides the momentum of a 12-5 record since the All-Star break and an 11-3 mark in March, tied for the best record in March in the NBA. Nine games remain in the 2016-17 regular season campaign, each more important than the next. Seven of the Trail Blazers' final nine games come at home in Portland, supply the Blazers with a distinct advantage to control their playoff destiny in the season's final weeks. 

"We haven’t accomplished anything," Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said after Sunday's win. "Part of the NBA schedule, we knew we had a lot of home games coming up, but we haven’t accomplished anything. It’s part of the NBA season; we can’t look at it as any sort of accomplishment, we’ve got nine games to go."

Added Lillard: "It’s a good feeling, knowing that we got to the position that we wanted to get to, being in the driver’s seat. But our work is just getting started. Coming back from the All-Star break, we talked about what our approach was going to be and what we were fighting for, and now we’re here but this is just the beginning.

"We’ve still got nine games left and we gotta be able to sustain the level of basketball we’re playing if we wanna hold down this spot."

The first of the remaining nine games comes Tuesday at Moda Center against none other than the Denver Nuggets. Seldom do games get any bigger than Tuesday's when it comes to the NBA schedule in late March.

"It’s on our home floor, in front of our home crowd, an opportunity to move a game ahead of them, take the tiebreaker outright with them if it comes down to the last game," Lillard said. "A lot of things on the line in this game… We’re ready for the challenge.

"Now that we’ve gotten here in the driver’s seat, we gotta take it home." 

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