Written by: Josh Gutbrod
Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard had just enough time to present NBA fans with one last epic showdown before the upcoming All-Star Break. The two stars combined for 94 points as the Warriors and Trail Blazers battled it out in Portland Wednesday evening. The back and forth scoring onslaught saw Lillard score over 39 points for his third-straight game (the first player to do so this season) and Durant posted his first 50-point game since 2014 as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. In the end, the Blazers held on for an impressive 123-117 win.
The game was one of the most exciting of the season and set the Trail Blazers six games above with a .500 heading into the break at 32-26. With just 24 games remaining after the break, the Blazers appear to be bound for a fifth-straight playoff appearance. The Blazers also received some positive signs from Lillard’s young running mates, center Jusuf Nurkic and shooting guard CJ McCollum, showing that the team could win with the current core down the line.
As for the Warriors, the defending NBA champions drop to second place in the West behind the Houston Rockets with the loss but remain the favorite to return to and win the NBA Finals. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combined to shoot 12-32 from the field, including 6-17 from three. The struggles were a combination of an off night for both and an increased defensive effort from the Blazers, especially from Lillard who chased Curry around for most of the game.
In short, the Warriors are the top dog and will be until somebody shows otherwise, at least come playoff time. One regular season loss does not change much, but it does provide the Trail Blazers with some hope that the roster is moving in the right direction. The Warriors are the present, but with some upgrades at the wing positions to go along with the core of Lillard, McCollum, and Nurkic, the Blazers may have some say in who becomes the future out West.