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Damian Lillard Demands Your Attention

With two winning streaks on the line, Damian Lillard ensured that it was his team that kept the momentum in hand. Dame launched four triples in the fourth quarter to cap an impressive 39-point night in the Staples Center as he buried the Lakers single handedly. The Blazers are now 9-1 SU and 8-2 ATS in their last 10 games while riding an impressive seven game run.

This stretch has catapulted the Blazers in to bet-on status and given them some much needed life blood in a division that is surrounded by lurkers. The Northwest Division is as much a group of death as there is in the NBA. Only four games separate the first place Blazers and the last place Utah Jazz.

Even with their juicy streak intact, the Portland Trail Blazers are still being sent off as a third-favorite to win the division. It’s hard to argue against the popular bet that is the Oklahoma City Thunder at +175, but shouldn’t they be ranked a bit higher than the Minnesota Timberwolves?

Northwest Division Odds -
Oklahoma City Thunder +175
Minnesota Timberwolves +250
Portland Trail Blazers +350
Denver Nuggets +650
Utah Jazz +800

Jimmy Butler might come back, but a torn meniscus is no trifling injury. It’s worth mentioning that the Wolves are just 2-3 SU and ATS in their last 5 games since the break. Plus their only two wins and covers have come against the Bulls and Kings. Granted, there’s a lot to adjust to, but the young Wolves needed Jimmy in so many ways and the team just doesn’t have the requisite depth to fill in the gap left by the 20+ point scorer.

The Wolves, Nuggets and Jazz will all stay in the race but the question remains if the Blazers hold any intrinsic value as a division winner. Let’s keep in mind that this team went 18-8 SU and ATS in the second half last season as they made a courageous push to crash the playoff party as the eighth seed. This year the stakes are much higher and this team knows it.

Where the team needs a boost is in third-year player Jusef Nurkic, who they acquired from the Nuggets around this time last year. Nurkic got off to a rip roaring start with 16.8 points and 7.9 rebounds in November but has leveled off a bit on the scoring side. He is coming off a February where he notched 13.7 points but upped his board production to 8.6. Considering that the Blazers are a below-average rebounding team, they need their star center to really come through.

And everything about Nurkic’s recent play suggests that he has it in him. He tore down 16 rebounds last night against the Lakers and is focusing on exactly what he needs to. Nurkick also fits perfectly in to the “island of misfit toys” mentality that the Blazers have seemingly embraced along the way.

The chip on Damian Lillard’s shoulder is the size of the moon. He forms one of the elite backcourts in the league alongside CJ McCollum, and while everyone routinely focuses on their impressive complimentary skillsets, it’s the rest of the team that creates a point of difference for Portland.

Next Games (POR): vs. New York (3/6), vs Golden State (3/9), vs Miami (3/12), vs Cleveland (3/15), vs Detroit (3/17)

Ed Davis is a steal at $6.4 million a year. He rebounds, scores, does the dirty work and is a crafty defender with length and great lateral footwork. The bargain basement bench that the Blazers have with Shabazz Napier, an ever-improving Zach Collins and Davis steadies the scoring barrages offered by Lillard.

The age-old adage in the NBA is that a team is only as good as its best player, and Damian Lillard is often forgotten in the conversation. When he is on, the Blazers are absolutely there with the best in the west. He hardly ever misses a game. Dame has played in 96-percent of Portland’s games over the past six seasons, while being as a steady in production as a grandfather clock.

Portland has proven that they are a great second half team, they’re starting to fire on all cylinders and there’s constant pressure in the Northwest Division to produce. No team has been this consistent outside of Houston. Portland knows that the single advantage that they have over everyone else is a rambunctious home court, and they want that third seed badly in a showdown with a division rival. The rest of the Northwest Division is likely to populate the last three playoff spots in the conference.

What’s most important is that you recognize that Portland is on a streak worth banking on. They have a terrific opportunity to pad their lead atop the division with a five-game homestand that features matchups with Golden State and Cleveland. There are few teams in the league that are “bet and forget” entities in the market. Even Houston has their hands full with Oklahoma City tonight as they try to keep their own streak alive. Portland is an easy take against the Knicks, and then all eyes are o that Friday night ripper against the Warriors.

Don’t believe in Dame? Think again. He’s averaged 41.5 points in two games against Golden State this season, and they’ll probably be home dogs anyways. Keep your ear close to the rails with Portland. They are screeching in to the playoffs while everyone else is looking elsewhere.

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