Once again, the Portland Trail Blazers are headed to the NBA Playoffs. With their 132-116 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night, the Blazers clinched a playoff spot for the eighth consecutive season — the longest active streak in the NBA. With a six-seed standing in the Western Conference, the Blazers will avoid the play-in tournament and face the three-seed Nuggets once again in the first round of the playoffs.
Aaron Fentress covers the Trail Blazers for the Oregonian/OregonLive and joined OPB’s Jenn Chávez to talk postseason play, overcoming adversity on the court, the future of coach Terry Stotts, and Damian Lillard’s championship drive. You can read all of Fentress’ reporting here.
Overcoming adversity and Injuries
The Portland Trail Blazers faced road bumps this season from the get-go. Like every team in the NBA, they were dealing with a shortened training camp. But Portland’s team also had an outbreak of COVID-19 that affected three people, including one player, costing them four days of training camp. As Fentress explains, once out of training camp, injuries were their next hurdle.
Fentress: “And then [Jusuf] Nurkić came in out-of-shape and then he gets injured [and] misses 35 games total. CJ [McCollum] gets hurt the next day, misses 25 games. That’s your second and third best player out for a combined 60 games. That’s huge. Now, fortunately for them, they were going through the softer part of their schedule and were able to come out of it OK. But I look at their record right now, at 42 wins, and I don’t think it’s unrealistic to say that had those two been healthy for most of the season, the Blazers would have 48 or 49 victories.”
The future of Coach Terry Stotts
Earlier in the season, head coach Terry Stotts’ future with the Blazers was called into question after a five-game losing streak. Sports media outlets were speculating that Stotts could be on the chopping block. But now, with a spot in the playoffs secured, Frentress says there’s hope for the coach.
Frentress: “I do feel like there still is a sense that they have to do well in the playoffs. ... If they get through the west finals, there’s no way he gets fired. If they win the first round, I think it’s 50-50. And if they lose in the first round, I think there’s a good chance he could be replaced.”
Lillard’s love for Portland
Frentress also highlighted Damian Lillard’s comments last night about how bad he wants a championship with this team specifically. Lillard declared he wants a parade down Broadway in Portland. Frentress says Lillard’s drive to not only win a title, but to win it for Portland shows how dedicated he is to fans.
“Blazers fans should always appreciate the passion he has for playing in the city because it’s been really difficult for Portland to attract star free agents, or to even attract trade targets who will sign extensions and stay in Portland. But Lillard loves being here and wants to be here, and I think he really wants to make it work.”
Listen to the full interview with Fentress :