Aldridge, Lillard, Batum

With a 99-90 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, the Portland Trail Blazers put a serious dent in their rivals’ playoff bid while making sure they keep up with the rest of the teams trying to get at least one round of home court advantage.

The Blazers have now won six of their last seven, actually enjoying a rare big help from their bench as they continue to hang on to fourth in the West with a 50-26 record, 1.5 games behind the Grizzlies (52-25), half a game behind the Clippers (51-26) and having the fourth seed just because of their division title, although it won’t help them with the home court thing. The Spurs have an identical record, seeing them at sixth.

Maybe the Pelicans are the bigger story after this loss. Four straight wins and a bad patch of results for the Thunder put them only half a game behind Westbrook and co., but this loss takes them back and keeps them one game apart from the Thunder. Their remaining schedule is the more difficult one, and losing to Portland wasn’t a good way to start their decisive stretch.

LaMarcus Aldridge scored 21 points, and the last few games have pretty much settled the debate of who is more important to the team. Damian Lillard has taken a step or two backwards this season, and things seemed to be slipping out of hand while Aldridge was out. Lillard scored 19 points and maybe playing more like a second option and not a 1A kind of guy will be beneficial for the Blazers.

In the form of the surprising contribution came the 39 points from the bench. Chris Kaman scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in only 21 minutes of basketball while C.J. McCollum added 10 points. The Blazers are a good defensive team (Lillard isn’t, but when he feels like it, he can be less damaging to his own team), and don’t need everyone firing on all cylinders to win games against good teams.

Anthony Davis had a rough time in the paint, finishing with 19 points. Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans combined to score 43 points, but too many players, including two lineup guys combining to score six points, were redundant offensively. There’s nothing new about Omer Asik struggling on the offensive side of the ball, but it’s hard making the playoffs when there’s one or even two players on the floor the ball doesn’t even go through on almost every possession.

The Blazers no longer look and feel like a contender in the West; not without Wesley Matthews. But a team to look out for in the first round? A team that can repeat last year’s achievement of a conference semifinal? Definitely, even without home court advantage. Lillard might not be the team’s best player, but he can be the most important one if he starts looking more composed, which he has in the past, when the time is right.

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