Have the Blazers Turned a Corner in Time for Playoffs?

Hello, Blazers fans, Antonio here. I finally finished all my finals, so there’s only one thing left on my mind: The Portland Trail Blazers. With nine games left on the schedule, the Blazers are in an interesting spot. Just six days ago, Portland looked dead in the water. Now, they might be one of the hottest teams in the NBA.

After a brutal five-game losing streak, the Blazers have won three in a row, all by 19+. The offense has been humming, averaging 130 points per game over those three. The teams they have played (Indiana, Memphis, Brooklyn) are all in the playoff picture. Have the Blazers turned the corner? Let’s take a closer look.

Actual Game Plan Changes:

For years, Terry Stotts has been known for sticking with his plan. The plan? Damian Lillard does Damian Lillard things. Heavy iso ball, the occasional pass, and the idea of defense. Not much has changed, especially this year. The last three games have seen different strategies.

Against Indiana, Portland went big. With Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis out of the lineup, the Blazer bigs could feast on Edmund Sumner and JaKarr Sampson. Nurkic had 11 and Kanter had 12, and the two combined for 24 rebounds.

Against Memphis and Brooklyn, the Blazers focused on passing and driving. Camping at the three-point line for the majority of the season, the offense has switched up to drives. Norman Powell leads the way with his cuts, and Nurkic’s passing ability has led to more backdoor cuts.

It might not be much, but it’s a start. The Blazers are making changes.

Nurkic & Simons Showing Life

After missing 32 games with a broken wrist, Jusuf Nurkic had been playing a little off. His finishing was inconsistent, his passes erratic, and his defense questionable. He was clearly out of game shape and not used to the court.

Anfernee Simons has not been hurt all year, but inconsistent play had banished him to the back of the bench. Simons sported a horrific defensive rating, could not pass well and was unusable if his stroke was off.

That was the past. Forget all those negative words, because we’re in the present now. Simons and Nurkic are two of the biggest reasons for the Blazers’ success. Over the last five games, Nurkic is averaging 18 and 13, and Simons is shooting above 50% from three, is much more adept defensively, and his assist numbers are up as well. There’s a lot to be excited about.

Is This Sustainable?

Now, Antonio, you may be asking yourself. Can the Blazers keep this up? Well, dear reader, I really don’t know. That might not be the answer you were looking for, but there are a lot of factors riding on the Blazers’ success. Will their opponents rest players? Will the offense keep scoring 130 a game? Will Nassir Little and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson step up when needed? I’m not sure.

But do you see that? That’s Damian Lillard doing Damian Lillard things. Through this winning streak and brief improved play, Lillard has been struggling. If Nurkic and Simons can keep it up, if the game plans keep opponents on their toes, if the Blazers hit shots, that’s great. But if Lillard starts getting into peak form?

The Blazers are only one game out of fifth place in the West. I’m not saying they’ll get it. I’m just saying there’s a chance.

Next Up: Portland travels to Massachusetts to take on a hot Boston Celtics team.

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