Damian Lillard has been shut down for the season and the Portland Trail Blazers appear in disarray.
Yet, Portland is still part of the chase for a play-in berth as the club enters Wednesday’s home game against the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs also are part of the mix for that play-in spot. The New Orleans Pelicans lead the Spurs by two games and the Trail Blazers by 2 1/2 for the final play-in berth.
Portland finally did the expected and ruled six-time All-Star Lillard out for the remainder of the season due to his abdominal injury. He last played on Dec. 31.
The Blazers made it clear protecting Lillard’s future was more important than hastening his return.
“I think it’s good for the team to just have the answer that he won’t be back,” Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said prior to Monday’s 119-115 win over the host Detroit Pistons. “But I’m happy and encouraged about where he is in the process. He’s feeling good, looking good, actually. I’ve seen him a lot, kind of working out.
“I’m happy about where he is and I’m happy that a decision was finally made to move on and let him get all the way 100 percent healthy and let the young guys still play.”
Monday’s win against Detroit completed a 1-4 road trip and was only Portland’s second victory in the last 12 games.
“It’s always tough to win that last game on the road, so I thought we showed some great resilience in this game,” Billups said.
San Antonio also has been struggling and Sunday’s 110-108 road victory over the Golden State Warriors was only the squad’s fourth in the past 12 games.
It came during a wild ending as Jakob Poeltl made the first of two free throws to tie the score at 108 with 2.4 seconds left. Poeltl missed the second free throw but Keldon Johnson tacked-on a putback with 0.3 seconds to play.
“I crashed in and I think somebody tipped it, and I just grabbed it and turned around and put it up,” Johnson said. “I was like, ‘I just want to get it off in time.'”
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was pleased to leave the building on San Francisco Bay with a victory.
“We played well enough to win,” Popovich said. “We have a lot of things we still got to learn, but they don’t give in. That’s the best part. They have great character and they keep playing.”
The crazy win came in the opener of a four-game road trip and gives the Spurs momentum as they arrive in the Pacific Northwest. In a 12-day span, they’ll play the Blazers twice more, hosting them in San Antonio on April 1 and 3.
Earlier this season, the Spurs crushed the Trail Blazers 114-83 in Portland on Dec. 2.