Blazers Finish Strong: Kings No Match for Lillard, Kanter

Hello, Blazer fans, Antonio here. Portland finished off the first half of the season right, winning their third straight game against the Kings on Thursday night. 

Against all odds, the game finally came to a close (the final 13 seconds took 15 minutes), and the Blazers were victorious, 123-119. Damian Lillard scored 44 and dazzled yet again as Portland squeaked by the struggling Sacramento squad to finish 21-14 through the All-Star break. Let’s take a closer look.

Lillard and Kanter Show

Dame is great. He did normal Dame things, scoring an easy 44 and continuing his hot streak in crunch time. How this man is not firmly entrenched in the MVP conversation is beyond me, as he has more than proved it.

Yes, Damian going off is a common occurrence, but Thursday night was a Lillard and Kanter tag-team. Enes had 22 points and 21 boards and feasted. In true Enes fashion, he was a beast on the glass. The surprise? His defense.

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Watch @EnesKanter with FOUR straight defensive stops to help the @trailblazers win their third in a row before heading into the All-Star break! #RipCity

Kanter has been a godsend for Portland, as he is the one healthy player over 6’ 7” on the roster. Neil Olshey should be awarded a parade for getting Kanter for Mario Henzonja and nothing else. This performance by Kanter has been more of the norm than an outlier, and it bodes well for the Blazers’ future.

Trent in a Slump?

After I praised Gary Trent’s ability to keep making threes no matter what, Trent has failed to hit more than two threes over the last four games. Against the Kings, Trent had seven points on 11 shots, only hitting one three. His hot mid-range and three-point stroke have gotten cold, and his defense has been inconsistent at best.

Even with this slump, Trent needs to remain a 30+ minute player. Even when CJ McCollum returns, Trent’s moxie and shooting presence will be phenomenal off the bench. He’s been overperforming as a starter, but I don’t expect this small slump to last long. Trent shoots with too much confidence. Even if he’s missing, the defense still has to respect him.

Finishing Up the First Half

The Blazers are .600 after the first half of the season, their best record since 2014-15. There’s a lot to be happy about, but a bit to worry about as well.

Let’s start with the negative first: the Blazers are overperforming. Basketball Reference has their expected win/loss rate at 18-19. They have a negative next plus/minus, the only team with a winning record to have one. They win close and lose big. Helped by the second easiest schedule in the league, Portland may be in trouble when an extremely tough April hits.

That was a depressing outlook. Let’s look more positively. Who cares what the advanced metrics say? The Blazers have 21 wins. That’s good. The big losses have helped Damian Lillard get fewer minutes and still be fresh for far closer games. Meanwhile, the team got by without both CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic. They should have both at full health when April comes.

What’s the real outlook? Hard to say. I believe that the true answer lies somewhere between those two extremes. The Blazers will get a lot better when the starters return, but it will take a bit for Stotts to figure out his rotation. I think they’ll thrive in March, survive in April, and succeed in the playoffs.

Next Up: Lillard, Robert Covington, and Anfernee Simons head to Atlanta for All-Star Weekend. For everyone else, it’s a week off until the Suns come to town.

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