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Blazers signature moments

Portland hasn't got to where it is this season by accident

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers Writer
Published: February 14, 2016, 10:00pm

The Blazers have been one of the NBA’s most uplifting stories. As we look toward the post-All-Star stretch of the season when their playoff fate will be decided, we take a look back at how we got here and the most important moments of the season to this point.

1) CJ is OK

Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum put the league on notice by scoring 37 points in an opening night victory over the Pelicans.

In that game he showed Blazers fans and the league a taste of what was to come.

He made Ish Smith look comical by turning him into an instant vine with his bag of tricks and bamboozled even the best defensive efforts by hitting shots most players wouldn’t think of attempting.

McCollum’s opening night set a tone for the Blazers season, foreshadowing that teams could not only focus on Damian Lillard and expect a successful night. They’d have to deal with him, too, and most teams haven’t done well in slowing down his breakout season.

Behind McCollum’s excellent play and a career season from Lillard, the Blazers are poised to make it back to the postseason.

2) “Us vs. Everybody”

One of the most important moments of the Blazers season thus far came in a preseason game. It foreshadowed struggles to come and set a tone for their season.

The Blazers lead the Los Angeles Clippers by 35 points, only to lose the game in comical fashion.

It wouldn’t be the last time they had a memorable game against the Clippers and it wouldn’t be the last time they blew a huge lead.

McCollum and DeAndre Jordan got into a shouting match. Then Terry Stotts and Doc Rivers re-ignited a coaching feud that would reach its pinnacle a couple of months later when Rivers reportedly blocked the Blazers from putting McCollum on the active roster after a clerical error.

After the loss, Lillard was quoted as saying that it’s the Blazers “against everybody.”

While it seemed far too early to take that kind of a dramatic stance before their first regular season game, it set a tone for a season.

The Blazers would have more leads to blow and more disappointing losses to swallow.

But “Us against Everybody” and Lillard’s button-pushing have been a major key for the Blazers this season.

3) Allen Crabbe emerges

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when people started to notice that Allen Crabbe was here to stay.

Perhaps Portland’s road win at Minnesota on Nov. 2 was a good place to start.

Stotts went to a small lineup and Crabbe sealed the victory with a steal.

His defense has been fantastic all season and he’s boosted that with a career-high 11.2 points per game off the bench.

Making things more interesting, Crabbe has become one of the best midrange shooters in the league, a skill becoming ever more valuable as teams try to take away the 3-point shot.

He’s shooting 37 percent from long range and 54.5 percent on two-point shots.

A restricted free-agent at season’s end, Crabbe is almost a sure bet to get a big raise on the open market.

Wing players who can play defense and score, let alone create their own offense like Crabbe, have become extremely valuable in a faster, smaller league.

The Blazers can match any offers other teams make, but odds are it’s going to cost them a lot to do so.

4) Damian Lillard snaps 275 consecutive-games played streak, Blazers do just fine

Lillard is carrying a bigger load than ever. So when he went down in the middle of a late December road trip with plantar fasciitis, causing him to miss regular season games for the first time in his career, it wasn’t an uncommon thought that this was the first sign of a season built on ping pong balls.

McCollum had been great and Crabbe had been solid, but most were skeptical about how the team would hold up without their only All-Star in the rotation.

The Blazers answered the critics with a 4-3 record over the seven games that Lillard missed.

That included a blowout over an uninspired Cleveland Cavaliers team that saw their coach get fired weeks later and a gutsy win in Sacramento the next night.

The Blazers won in Sacramento thanks to a monster night from McCollum where he scored 35 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.

Crabbe was huge over that stretch but everyone from Mason Plumlee, to Meyers Leonard, to Tim Frazier, to Moe Harkless, played a part in turning what looked like a sure disaster into a positive.

5) Lillard Time saves Blazers, sparking them to season-best run

With 3:20 left, down by eight points to a surging Oklahoma City Thunder team on Jan.10, the Blazers were staring a third-straight home loss right in the face.

Then Lillard came to the rescue, scoring 17 points in the final 3:07 to lead the Blazers to an improbable 115-110 win, outshooting All-World gunslingers Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

To players on the team, it was a little bit of karma coming back for all of the close games and bounces that went against them earlier in the season.

But cosmic influence or not, you can’t argue the results. Since Lillard’s take over the Blazers have gone 12-3 over their last 15 games with the fourth-best net-rating in the league behind Golden State, San Antonio and the aforementioned Thunder.

During that time, the Blazers have played their best defensive basketball of the season by posting the fifth-best defensive rating in the league during that span.

The Blazers seem to be getting better and growing closer as a unit by the day.

Bench players like Gerald Henderson and Maurice Harkless have had signature performances over this stretch.

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Columbian Trail Blazers Writer