An Ugly 2-1
As it turns out, expectations shifted after the hot start, and fans are getting more and more nervous with every loss, as the playoffs are right around the corner.
Portland began the year as the surprise of the Association. A 24-5 start shocked everyone leaguewide — Rip City included — and the team was in a constant battle for first out West with the San Antonio Spurs.
Unfortunately, the team has come crashing back down to earth ever since, and Week 21 epitomized just how nerve-racking the final stretch is going to be for fans in the Northwest.
March 18 vs. Milwaukee
When the regular season comes to an end, March 18 will go down as the worst win of the year.
Portland was coming off of a stretch that saw them lose five of six. With the exception of the one win against the New Orleans Pelicans, all stumbles came against playoff opponents, making an easy win as necessary as it had been all season.
That was supposed to be the narrative with the league-worst Milwaukee Bucks coming to town, but as it turned out, it took overtime and a whole lot of points to get a 120-115 win.
March 20 vs. Washington
The win against Milwaukee was ugly — unnecessarily ugly — making a bounce-back performance even more important. Luckily for Portland, it got just that against the Washington Wizards — a playoff-bound organization out East.
With LaMarcus Aldridge out once again (he would miss the whole week to injury), Damian Lillard needed someone else to step up. Damian Lillard recorded 23 points, 10 assists and six rebounds, but without Wesley Matthews‘ 28 points on 8-of-16 shooting (4-of-9 from downtown), the team might not have walked away with a 116-103 win.
March 22 @ Charlotte
In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Charlotte Bobcats are a far different team than they’ve been in years past. Nobody is going to call them a favorite out East, but their 34-36 record is good enough for seventh in the conference, and it makes them a near-lock for just their second postseason appearance in franchise history.
All that said, this is still a 34-36 team out East, and simply put: The Blazers should not have laid such an egg in their first game of a new five-game road trip.
If Portland is going to turn things around, it must be now. The team faces off against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat on Monday, but once that game is in the rearview mirror, the schedule lightens up quite a bit.
With favorable opponents down the stretch, Portland must return to early-season form. This is a team that can still be dangerous in the playoffs, but if it can’t take down inferior opponents in the final month of the year, the question becomes: Can we trust it to win a seven-game series against a championship hopeful?