Leonard Stars in Portland's Loss
You never like getting to the point of the season where moral victories become your headlines. But, unfortunately, that time is here. The playoff race will continue in the west, and especially for that eighth and final spot, but for the Trail Blazers, there are only nine games left this season. The fact that they made it nearly to April, while still being in the conversation, was probably unexpected, and therefore it's a positive, but conceding they will not going into the final handful of games with a chance to be among the top eight is still disappointing.
With that in mind, the future is what we'll be talking about a lot in our final games of the season, and we got a nice glimpse of it on Saturday night in Oakland.
We all know what the Blazers have in Damian Lillard. He will be the Rookie of the Year, and he's surpassed all expectations. Point guard is perhaps the most important position in basketball, and Portland's future is bright in that department.
It's now looking more and more like their other lottery pick will also factor into the long-term plans. That's not exactly going out on a limb, as Meyers Leonard would have had to show much more than he has already to be given the benefit of the doubt, but showing what he has as of late has been very positive. Perhaps, to some, it's even been a relief.
The Blazers, as a team, clearly need LaMarcus Aldridge, and to ask them to consistently beat playoff teams without him was probably wishful thinking. They probably should have beaten Utah on Friday in Portland without him, but to think they'd be able to survive the Warriors, in Oakland, without their all-star, was asking too much.
But, without Aldridge, Leonard was allowed to play 41 minutes and was given the opportunity to reap a little reward for all of his hard work this season- even if it came in a loss. He's a team guy, so don't look for him to stick his chest out after a performance like he had against the Warriors, but I'm sure, in his own way, he's proud and, perhaps like you, is a bit relieved.
Leonard went for a career-high 22 points, and a career-high 10 rebounds in Portland's 125-98 loss. The Blazers got off to a decent start in this game, and were competitive until midway through the second half, so it wasn't like Leonard simply produced against a second unit. He played solid defense, was active, was a presence, and took advantage of his chances on offense. That's what was most pleasing.
Meyers showed his ability to run the court, change shots on defense, finish at the rim, and show his shooting range, even hitting his first-career three pointer.
He'll continue to get his opportunities, as the final games of the season will present plenty of additional opportunities for him to display his growth. Consistency will be his next hurdle. Leonard will be in the starting lineup on Monday when the Blazers take on the Jazz in Utah, and that frontline will challenge him in a much different way than the Warriors' did.
As for the other Blazers against Golden State, Damian Lillard was the focal point of the Warrior defense, and that's not going to change for him anytime soon. With no Aldridge threatening the inside, defenses will continue to make life very difficult on Lillard on the perimeter. To his credit, he still posted 16 points and 8 assists on Saturday.
Also, JJ Hickson picked up another double-double, scoring 15 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. It was his 40th double-double of the season, a remarkable feat.
There are only three road games to go for the Blazers, and this trip will continue on Monday in Utah.
Talk to you then.