Turns out players actually care about division titles. The Portland Trail Blazers clinched a playoff spot (which was never in doubt) with a 109-86 win over the Phoenix Suns, and next up is some irrelevant title to hang up on the rafters.
The Blazers haven’t won a division title outright since 1992, the last time the team with Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter made the NBA finals. They shared the division title in 2009 with the Denver Nuggets, but since then, it’s been hard competing with the Oklahoma City Thunder for supremacy in the West, even though Oklahoma isn’t anywhere near the West Coast or the North.
The return of LaMarcus Aldridge has given new life to the Blazers who are fighting to finish four or higher at the moment with the Clippers and Rockets and even the Grizzlies and Spurs. The Suns are making the opposite trip. After being in the top 8 or near them for most of the season, they’re slipping further and further away from making the playoffs, which was foreseeable considering their moves on the trade deadline.
Damian Lillard scored 19 points to lead the Blazers who pulled away with a 37-point third quarter, holding the Suns to just 16 points. Aldridge scored 17 points, Nicolas Batum finished with 16 points and Arron Afflalo, filling in for the out-for-the-season Wesley Matthews, scored 16 as well. Chris Kaman, maybe the only capable offensive player coming off the bench, scored 12 points, maybe inspired by this hideous shirt.
The question that remains about the Blazers is whether or not this team can make a deep playoff run. Up until the Matthews injury, their numbers and record suggested they should be considered title contenders. However, with their bench once again looking almost non-helpful with just Kaman to support Lopez and Aldridge, anything beyond the conference semifinals will be greatly surprising.
Then comes the hope of not losing Aldridge in free agency. He has said he’d like to re-sign with the team and retire with the Blazers, but words are wind, and we won’t know until the offseason begins.