NBA Notebook: Blazers face uphill climb in crowded West

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Dan Halverson

January 21st, 2021

The NBA has hit its midseason stride, with fantastic action on the court and exciting trade rumors and personnel moves off of it. Let’s take a look at this week’s top storylines from around the Association.

Bucks vs. Nets lived up to the hype

The league cleverly scheduled a fantastic slate of games for MLK Day, and they didn't disappoint. The young Phoenix Suns traveled to Memphis where they were narrowly defeated, 108-104. It was an appetizer to the most compelling game of the season thus far, as the Milwaukee Bucks took on the new-look Brooklyn Nets.

After getting out to a large lead, the Bucks battled back in what became a back-and-forth affair in the fourth quarter. The Nets narrowly won, 125-123, in what could easily be a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Nets have supplanted the Bucks as favorites in the East with their addition of James Harden, but just as they did Monday night, the Bucks will not go down without a fight.

Kyrie is back

After far too long away from the team for personal and then health protocol reasons, Kyrie Irving elected to return to the Nets.

Irving has had some tremendous highs during his time in the league, and Nets coach Steve Nash will surely hope this marks the one and only departure of the season for his perennial All-Star guard.

Despite his return and the first appearance of the "Big 3" on Wednesday night, the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Nets in what could be argued was a hangover game following the Nets’ big primetime victory on Monday.

Blazers have an uphill climb

The Portland Trail Blazers have been fringe contenders in the West over the last few years, pushing teams like the Warriors and Lakers with their star duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Now, holding a tenuous hold on the sixth-seed, the Blazers will have to navigate the difficult West for a time without two starters.

McCollum has a foot fracture and will miss at least a month, while big man Jusuf Nurkic has a fractured wrist and is out at least six weeks.

With their full lineup available, the Blazers tare a playoff team and a challenger in the conference, but with quality teams like the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets lurking behind them in the standings, their margin for error is razor thin.

Don’t give up on the Raptors 

After struggling to a 2-8 start to the season and receiving attention just a week ago in this space for those struggles, the Raptors rattled off a minor winning streak. While two of those wins have come against the mediocre Charlotte Hornets, it is still an important run to get them back in a position to have success in 2021.

Their 116-93 victory over a talented Mavericks team was especially impressive, and may indicate the Raptors are capable of making a playoff push.

When will the Wizards win? 

The more important question, albeit with slightly less alliteration, is actually when will the Wizards even play again? As COVID-19 wreaks havoc on Washington's schedule, the Wizards find themselves in an odd and unique situation.

Friday night’s planned contest against the Milwaukee Bucks has been called off, and this now marks the sixth consecutive game in a row that the Wizards have experienced a postponement. It's a challenging situation for the team as protocols exist to keep the league as a whole safe and playing, but prolonged durations with no-play disrupt whatever semblance of competitive balance may have otherwise existed.

If you’re a fan of the struggling 3-8 Wizards, however, maybe this is a blessing in disguise. In the words of Mike McD from Rounders, "You can’t lose what you don’t put in the pot."