Trail Blazers Clinch Playoff Berth with Jazz's Win vs. Timberwolves

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistApril 2, 2018

Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum, left, and guard Damian Lillard react after McCollum scored late in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, March 21, 2017. The Bucks won 93-90. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)
Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press

The Portland Trail Blazers are headed back to the playoffs.    

Per Casey Holdahl of the team's official site, the Minnesota Timberwolves' 121-97 loss to the Utah Jazz at Target Center on Sunday was enough for Portland to clinch a berth for the fifth straight season.

The team's Twitter account was ready to celebrate the moment:

The squad could have also clinched a playoff appearance with a home win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday at Moda Center, but Minnesota's defeat helped it out first.

Expectations were tempered for the Blazers following a 41-41 finish last season, but they've proved to be one of the league's more stable and consistent clubs during a campaign defined by chaos across the Western Conference standings. 

As always, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have spearheaded the charge on offense. 

Lillard entered Sunday averaging 26.6 points and 6.6 assists per game, and he's remained one of the league's most lethal threats from distance. 

In fact, Lillard, James Harden, LeBron James and Stephen Curry are the only players averaging at least 25 points and six dimes a night while shooting at least 36 percent from beyond the arc this season.

McCollum, meanwhile, has flanked Lillard to the tune of 21.7 points per game while draining 40.9 percent of his long-range looks. 

"I think we're as good as any backcourt," Lillard told ESPN.com's Chris Haynes. "Whenever we match up against whoever, we're out there, and we're banging. It's going to come down to wins and your team's success, but I think if that's a discussion, we're as good as any backcourt."

Perhaps most impressive, though, has been the Blazers' defensive awakening. 

One year after Portland allowed a 21st-ranked 107.8 points per 100 possessions, head coach Terry Stotts' club has vaulted up the charts. To date, the Blazers are ninth in defensive rating—allowing 104.3 points per 100 possessions. 

Portland will look to maintain that balance in hopes of avoiding a first-round playoff exit for the third time in the last four seasons. 

If the Blazers can achieve that feat, they'll be a daunting matchup for Western Conference Finals hopefuls in Round 2.  

                       

Stats courtesy of NBA.com

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