The surprising wins keep piling up for Portland, enough that we might want to start wondering whether we should even be surprised any more.
The Trail Blazers topped the Miami Heat 92-90 at the Rose Garden on Thursday night, pulling out a win over one of the NBA's top teams that might have seemed improbable not all that long ago.
But this ever-evolving Portland team currently looks a lot more like a playoff contender than the rebuilding project it is, as evidenced by the 12 wins in the past 15 games, including a 3-1 record on a recent road trip that kicked off with a victory over the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
It was a big day for many basketball fans in Oregon, with the Blazers closing out the Heat not long after the University of Oregon men's basketball team knocked off fourth-ranked Arizona in Eugene, just a couple of hours' drive south of the Rose Garden on Interstate 5.
The Ducks' victory might have been far more surprising, and really, it should have been. Because Blazers fans are learning that it just might be OK to expect wins like Thursday's from their team.
Portland trailed as much as 12 in the final quarter, staring up at an 80-68 deficit after Dwyane Wade hit a pair of free throws with 8:08 left to play. But the Blazers rallied, then survived a hold-your-breath 3-point attempt by a wide-open Mario Chalmers just before the final buzzer.
Before that, LaMarcus Aldridge had gone 2-for-4 from the free-throw line in the final 1:36 and Damian Lillard missed a pair of foul shots at the 4:16 mark, opportunities that might have made things a little more comfortable at the end. But on a night when Portland went 23-for-30 from the foul line, the Blazers had four of those seven misses late in the game, leaving no room to relax down the stretch.
The Blazers didn't, and their fans couldn't, especially after Wesley Matthews drained two huge 3-pointers in the final 56 seconds, the first tying the score at 88 and the second putting Portland up for good at 91-90 with 26 seconds remaining. That one was particularly sweet, because Miami had just regained the lead on a way-too-easy dunk by Chris Bosh.
So Matthews played the hero on this night, finishing with 18 points and draining two of his three 3-pointers in the final minute to send Portland into seventh place in the Western Conference standings with a tough one at Golden State coming up on Friday.
Nicolas Batum had another great overall game, with 28 points, seven rebounds and five assists; Aldridge had another double-double, with 20 points and 15 rebounds; Lillard added 10 points and eight assists; and J.J. Hickson flirted with yet another double-double, finishing with eight points and 10 rebounds.
It's still tough for many fans to get overly excited about this Portland team, only because there's simply no depth to speak of, a factor you can only assume will come into play at some point this season. The starters can't do it all, for an entire season, can they?
They pretty much are so far, and they did once again on Thursday, with the bench providing a total of just eight points from five reserves (Ronnie Price scored five, Sasha Pavlovich three). The non-existent bench production looms in the background for a team that is otherwise worth getting excited about. You want to just go all in with these Blazers and start thinking about playoff possibilities, but you know that the lack of depth is skulking, likely to strike at the most inopportune moment.
It may yet happen. But for now, with the starters playing the way they are, this Portland team is sure fun to watch. And wins like Thursday's over Miami are getting less and less surprising all the time.
Adam Sparks has followed the Portland Trail Blazers since the early 1980s, and has written about the team as a freelancer since 2009.
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