The Portland Trail Blazers were able to shake the NBA bubble and reach the playoffs thanks to these top ten factors (aside from Damian Lillard)

The Portland Trail Blazers were able to shake the NBA bubble and reach the playoffs thanks to these  ...

No. 1

Let's just go through the obvious. Portland would not be going to the NBA playoffs starting at 6 p.m. Tuesday if not for Lillard's brilliance in the Florida bubble.

The, and bubble MVP (a strange award), led all players with 37 points per game, dangling viewers with 154 points over three must-win games, tout en demanding that the world put some respect on his name.

While choosing Lillard as the top factor is too difficult, here's a list of the top 10 factors that allowed the Blazers to win the NBA playoffs outside of Lillard.

Sort of...


Remember that a one additional loss along the way would have ended the Blazers' run. Portland's 125-115 victory against Denver on August 6 erupted despite the Nuggets losing three key players that combined to a total of 45.2 points during the season. Jamal Murray (18.5), Will Barton (15.1), and Paul Millsap both suffered a variety of injuries.

Millsap and Murray returned the following game, a win over Utah.

If the three players were playing, one cannot say for sure that the Blazers would have lost this game. However, their absence did not make any sense.


Jaren Jackson Jr. of the Memphis Grizzlies dunks the ball during the second half of an NBA basketball match against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday, July 31, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via AP) APAP

To open the bubble session for both teams, Jackson claimed 33 points. Two games later, he took a meniscus against New Orleans, ending his season.

Is there a difference between the Grizzlies and the bulls, or would it have made a difference with a healthy Jackson? One more win would have left Memphis eighth place, forcing the Blazers to twice defeat the Grizzlies, with Jackson, over the last weekend to win the No. 8 seed.

It's hard to say how much of a factor a healthy Jackson would have been. Memphis, after all, went 0-3 with Jackson in the lineup.


Portland lost 1-0 against the Los Angeles Clippers in a disappointing quarter. As it turned out, the 76ers had just lost Ben Simmons for the rest of the season with a knee injury. In the first quarter, Embiid suffered an ankle ailment.

The Blazers were narrowly winning 124-121 even with them out.

Given the way Portland ended its game, would it have defeated Philadelphia with its two All-Stars? It's probable that the game would not have been held on that day.

After finishing behind Memphis and Phoenix, a loss to the 76ers would have resulted in the Blazers being eliminated.

However, it must be noted that the 76ers had dominated the Suns following the Blazers. If one were to say that the Blazers would have lost to Philadelphia with Simmons and Embiid, then it must also be said that the 76ers would have defeated Phoenix.

Portland finishes ninth and would have had to defeat Memphis twice in the play-in round.


CJ McCollum of the Portland Trail Blazers reacts to a shot against the Memphis Grizzlies during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, August 15, 2020, (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP) APAP

The first three entries are based on pure speculation about what might have happened if certain opposing players had their health.

It's clear that regardless of the health of each opponent, they all had to deal with a team that was clearly on a mission.

The bubble devoutment began with 15 out of 16 playoff spots decided. So, the only real drama centered around the West's pick of the No. 8 seed.

After months of work, it would have been absolutely understandable that a team with a 29-37 record when the NBA halted play in March would struggle to find the motivation and determination to regroup, enter a bubble situation, and give maximum effort to fight for the no. 8 seed.

The Blazers lost the seed in the bubble as if it was a championship prize.

The Pelicans of New Orleans, who had the most of their time allocated, did not get the same amount.

The Blazers wanted it, and they did everything they could to make it happen.


Even without the equipment provided by Lillard, a competitive guy would have been able to make changes for his poor performance at the end of the Clippers' loss.

Once Lillard arrived, it was on Donkey Kong.

The two acting like third-graders while deciding to play an All-Star was likely a fair game given that Lillard had received bye-bye to the Thunder last season after hitting those deep three to dispel the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs.

You should be able to eat it, but you must be able to take it.

Despite a goal, Lillard poured in 51 points on the 76ers and scored 61 points against Dallas the following game. Even when the Brooklyn Nets tried to try to restart double-teaming Lillard in the parking lot, he found a way to score 42 points while giving out 12 assists.

Again, Lillard likely didn't need more attention, but it wouldn't be surprising if he had pictured George and Beverley on the head of every defender he has encountered since his loss to the Clippers.


Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum speak with ESPN after defeating the Memphis Grizzlies in an NBA basketball game Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP) APAP

I was tipped. There is a Lillard entry, but it has more to do with his approach than his dominance.

All too often, star players are criticized for not taking and/or making key shots in big games. Often it's a hideously poor talking point because what should matter more than anything is making the correct play.

Lillard threw the ball out to a shooter, usually Gary Trent Jr., Carmelo Anthony, or CJ McCollum, during Saturday's 126-122 victory against Memphis.

With 42 seconds left, the Blazers led 119-116. Lillard, who didn't make a field goal the entire fourth quarter, got into the lane, where he encountered too much attention to get off a good shot. So, he passed out to a wide-open Anthony, who tied a three-pointer to make the score 122-116.

McCollum, Anthony, and Trent's ability to hit high shots, according to Lillard, is why the offense has been so difficult to defend.

"When I'm getting attention and I'm looking at those three people on the perimeter, if I see a crowd, I'll not hesitate to make that play, then apologize to them, because I have a 100% assurance that they'll do it." Lillard said.

Smart actors create smart plays, and Lillard made many at the bubble.


In his first victory against Memphis, McCollum excelled with 33 points on 14 of 21 shootings. Afterward, he started to play unlike his normal self, aside from a 29-point effort.

Following his two of four appearances against Dallas, it was revealed that he had been dealing with a back issue since the restart.

Imagine the way the Blazers would be if he hadn't found a way to deal with the pain and perform.

McCollum gave Portland 25 points Thursday in a must-win against the Nets and then came back with 29 points on 11 of nine shooting Saturday. He finished the game with 14 points in the fourth quarter. There were also two isolation plays down the stretch in which he hit a step-back three and an elbow jumper against Ja Morant.

He didnt make no excuses, Lillard said. He didnt sit out. He didnt look for a way out. He just remained with it.


Carmelo Anthony (00) and Gary Trent Jr. (2) of the Portland Trail Blazers win a three-point win against the Memphis Grizzlies during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, August 15, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP) APAP

The key to aging veterans is that regardless of how much their overall ability diminishes, they never lose the ability to IQ and shooting stroke.

Anthony, a 10-time All-Star, is evidently not the same player he once was. However, Portland never required the 36-year-old to score 25 points per game, as he has done nine times in his career. The Blazers simply require him to make plays as the team's third option.

Anthony averaged 17 points in nine games at the bubble and scored more than 20 points five times. More important, he came up huge in long moments. His two three-pointers late in the fourth quarter helped push the game into overtime. In the second quarter, he rallied to 117-117 with 2:23 left.

Anthony advanced eight points in the fourth quarter of his victory against Philadelphia. On Saturday, his three-point goal and two free throws in the final 21 seconds helped ice the victory.

Anthony has been fantastic about picking his spot and using his skills, according to coach Terry Stotts.

Stotts said the player "fills in" and does what he needs to do. "We call a few plays for him, but he just knows how to play. He's smart."


Without Gary Trent Jr.'s involvement in the bubble, the Blazers are still playing.

After getting off to a 62 percent start from three-point range, he was basically the only reliable guy off the bench for the majority of the nine games.

Trent's clutch play had huge impact in wins against Memphis, Houston, and Denver. He shot 15 of 25 from three-point range over those three victories, while averaging 20 points per game.

He had been a rotation player for much of the season, but he had shown his abilities as a scorer. But with Trevor Ariza in his right hand, Portland needed him to serve as a defensive stopper in the city.

The fact that he became a reliable sharpshooter proved invaluable to the Blazers' chances in the playoffs.


Damian Lillard, who is left, and Jusuf Nurkic celebrate the team's victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in an NBA basketball game Sunday, August 9, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP) APAP

If not for the return of Portland's starting center, Portland's season would have ended Thursday against Brooklyn, who before the bubble had not played a game since march 2019.

Nurkic had a few disappointing games, including foul trouble. He fouled out against the Clippers and the Mavericks. But his big games were impactful. In nine games, he averaged 18 points and 11.4 assists. He continued to demonstrate why he is such a great passing big man with 4.2 assists per game. His 22-point, 21-rebound performance in 41 minutes on Saturday also included six assists.

Besides, Nurkic did all of that while dealing with his beloved grandmother's failing health back in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nurkic on August 2 confirmed that Hana was in a coma after testing positive for COVID-19.

"I think that reflects his character's character and who he is, as well as how much it takes to get back out there and be part of this team," Lillard said.

Portland is a strong underdog against the Lakers. However, the team's attention needs to highlight this team's commitment give the Blazers a chance.

Aaron Fentress | | (Twitter), (Instagram, and) (Facebook)

Subscribe to The Oregonian/OregonLive and receive latest news and top stories.

You may also like: