It is March so that must mean that all-star guard Damian Lillard is putting on his cape to save Portland’s season.
The Trail Blazers were in danger of missing the playoffs the last two seasons before they closed with a 17-11 mark in 2015-16 and an 18-7 record in 2016-17.
On Feb. 14 this year, Portland was about to fall out of the Western Conference playoff picture if it lost the last game before the All-Star break to Golden State. Instead, Lillard scored 44 points to lead a Blazers win and spark a winning streak that vaulted them into contention for home-court advantage in the first round.
In the deep West, it seemed impossible for the Blazers to climb as many as five spots in the standings, but they did so with a mix of quality victories against winning teams and the necessary work against losing teams. The Blazers have taken care of sub-.500 opponents regularly for a 22-5 mark, but Lillard’s next-level play and clutch fourth quarters gave the Blazers their longest winning streak since 2014. Portland is on a nine-game winning streak and has beaten Golden State twice during it.
Lillard averaged 35.4 points over a 10-game stretch, the highest scoring average over a 10-game span in franchise history.
Portland is bound to make the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season but another strong close with more elite defense could secure a high seed, especially if Blazers guard C.J. McCollum shakes off his shooting struggles.
Curry ankle watch begins
Golden State’s Stephen Curry did not travel with the team this weekend for games at Portland and Minnesota because on Thursday he injured his right ankle for the fourth time since Dec. 4.
Nobody is going to wince too much for the Warriors. They still have three more all-stars, including another MVP in Kevin Durant. They still will be at least the West’s No. 2 seed for the playoffs.
But because this is the ankle that underwent surgery in 2012, Golden State’s championship repeat hopes are resting on a wobbly base. Curry has missed 15 games thus far due to ankle issues.
The latest came when Curry, who turns 30 on Wednesday, was driving between two Spurs on Thursday and landed on Dejounte Murray’s foot. He limped off under his own power.
Phoenix Suns guard Shaquille Harrison is the only NBA player named Shaquille in league history other than Shaquille O’Neal.
Harrison, who is much more diminutive at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, was called up from the G League after the All-Star break. The undrafted guard from Tulsa and his brother, Monte, have the rare chance to be brothers playing different pro sports at the same time. Monte is a Florida Marlins outfield prospect.
Boogie coming back?
New Orleans has been on a tear without DeMarcus Cousins but that does not mean the Pelicans or Anthony Davis, now thriving at center, do not want Cousins back next season.
“I hope so,” Davis told the New York Times of Cousins re-signing this summer with the team. “That’s a decision he has to make. I’m pretty confident that he’ll stay. From what I hear, he plans on it. But I’m going to keep selling the dream here. I’ll be very involved — I want him here.”
Davis has thrived in Cousins’ absence but the big-man duo also was on its way to being the first pair of teammates to each average 25 points and 10 rebounds in a season. Cousins could sign for as much as $176 million over five years but the Achilles tear might reduce his value.
* Houston coach Mike D’Antoni has coached two teams to a 17-game winning streak, having also done it with Phoenix. Phil Jackson (Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers) and Red Auerbach (Boston Celtics, Washington Capitals) are the only other coaches to do that.
* Golden State is 22-0 when Draymond Green records a triple-double. According to Elias Sports Bureau, only Magic Johnson won more games consecutively (24) when he had triple-doubles.
* Utah’s Donovan Mitchell has posted the most 20-point games by a rookie (33) since Lillard did it 41 times for Portland in 2012-13.
* Toronto on Wednesday moved to 30 games above .500 for the first time in franchise history.
Minnesota at San Antonio: Saturday at 5:30 p.m. PDT. TV: NBATV.
The Timberwolves are 4-8 this season without Jimmy Butler. He is a two-way star but his absence is most noticeable on defense, where Minnesota has given up 113.7 points per game in three consecutive losses. The Spurs went 2-7 in February and have not started March much better. An injury-ravaged San Antonio roster is in danger of ending a NBA record streak of 20 consecutive playoff appearances. There was some good news Wednesday when Kawhi Leonard revealed to San Antonio reporters that he expected to be back “soon” from his quadriceps injury. He has played nine games this season.