The Portland Trail Blazers finished the job on Thursday, surviving by the skin on their teeth in a 134-133 high-octane win over the Brooklyn Nets. Now comes the final stamp of approval, winning a game against the Memphis Grizzlies to lock up the eighth seed and move on to the playoffs next week.
Here are three reasons why the Blazers will have no problem taking down the Grizzlies:
“Dame Time” is undoubtedly the single most important cog in this matchup. The All-Star point guard is in the midst of his best NBA season, averaging 30.0 points and 8.0 assists while leading all scorers in the bubble with an average of 37.6 points per game.
Lillard has simply been scorching the competition when a win is on the line, as evidenced by his 154 points over the last three —all pressure-cookers won by three points or less.
The Oakland native was at first hesitant to come into the bubble if his Blazers wouldn’t have a palpable opportunity to sneak into the playoffs. Once the opportunity opened up, Lillard grabbed it by the horns, ensuring his team would get there.
It’s also worth noting that Lillard has played 40 or more minutes in seven of the eight bubble games, but exhaustion isn’t likely to factor in just yet.
A strong support cast
Unlike the Memphis Grizzlies, who will be counting on rookie Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, and Jonas Valanciunas to handle the scoring load — Portland will have a bevy of scorers that can go for 20 points every night.
CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Trent Jr. and the veteran Carmelo Anthony can all light it up at a moment’s notice and make the most of a good outing.
The Blazers might not play good defense, but they have a penchant for making big shots down the stretch and having the right guns to carry them to the end.
In a matchup that could easily turn into a shootout, having better firepower often makes all the difference.
It’s only one game
Portland will only have to win one game to move onto the playoffs and that itself is a huge advantage. The Grizzlies will have to win two in a row against the Blazers to snatch their eighth spot back and the Blazers have yet to lose two in a row in the bubble.
It’s simply hard to fathom the Grizzlies winning that initial game and Lillard and company not coming back like bats out of hell to put the next game away.
The Grizzlies have been badly wounded after losing Jaren Jackson Jr. to a torn meniscus for the remainder of the season — and that has shown in the shape of a 2-6 restart.
Those woes simply won’t go away for the next game. Memphis will miss Jackson’s length, outside shooting, and his undeniable chemistry with Morant — something that sparked the Grizzlies to a Cinderella 2019-20 season.