Despite eventually trotting out a lineup so depleted by injury that 6’9” small forward Victor Claver played extended minutes at center, the Portland Trail Blazers scrapped their way to the best record in their division for the month of February (7-5). They now get to rest until Saturday, March 1st. Even though some teams have a game yet to play this month, Portland’s lead is insurmountable.
Portland Trail Blazers: 7-5 (final)
Oklahoma City Thunder: 5-5 (one game to play)
Minnesota Timberwolves: 5-6 (final)
Utah Jazz: 5-6 (one game to play)
Denver Nuggets: 3-8 (final)
Normally, winning more games than Minnesota, Utah, or Denver is not a big deal, but doing so without Joel Freeland (6 games missed), LaMarcus Aldridge (4 games missed), Meyers Leonard (4 games missed), and Thomas Robinson (1 game missed) is quite a feat. Portland showed that they are capable of adapting in order to win. The recent rash of injuries has been their only opportunity to prove their metal on that front.
Winning more games than the Thunder, however, is always impressive. Oklahoma City is struggling for the first time this season, though it won’t last long. Losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday marked the first time they’ve lost three straight home games since 2009. They now have only a three game lead on the Trail Blazers, who have climbed from 5th in the Western Conference, back to 3rd since the NBA All-Star break.
With just a month and a half to go until playoffs, there are five legitimate contenders for the top spot in the West: Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Portland, Los Angeles (Clippers), and Houston – each within four wins of each other. Portland’s tenacity in the face of adversity has kept them in the heart of the cluster. With important players close to return, the month of March could be theirs as well – playoff homecourt advantage on the line.