Not out of the woods yet

The Blazers dropped a heartbreaker in Phoenix last night. They lost by a single point. The game ended with a weird minute that featured an ill-timed foul by Norman Powell, a bad challenge by Terry Stotts, and two missed free throws by Robert Covington. Those missteps all combined to negate fourth quarter heroics that would have been incredible had they come from anyone other than the one and only Damian Lillard, who may be the greatest player Portland has ever seen. He had 24 points in the fourth quarter.

The Blazers must have been really tired by the end, on the second night of a back-to-back that began with a win in Salt Lake City. Now they get two days off to lick their wounds and get ready for Denver. Denver is playing the second-worst team in the league, in Detroit, this evening.

(Editor's note: I will now discuss the playoff scenarios, which I usually screw up. So get out your salt shaker.)

To avoid the hideous "play-in tournament," Portland needs either (a) a win in their last game, on Sunday evening at home against Denver, or (b) a Laker loss in either of the Lakers' last two games. The L.A. purple guys play in Indiana tomorrow afternoon (morning our time), and in New Orleans on Sunday evening at the same time as the Blazer game. New Orleans has nothing left to play for at this point, but Indiana still cares. And so I'm hoping the Blazers can have their fate sealed in Indiana tomorrow. Go Pacers! Win one for Mother Pence!

At this point, it's unlikely, but not impossible, that Dallas could wind up in the "play-in" instead of Portland or the Lakers. And so it would be sort of nice, but probably irrelevant in the end, if Dallas could get beat at home tonight by Gary Trent Jr.'s Toronto crew. But that's highly unlikely to happen, as Toronto appears to be losing games deliberately in order to gain better position in the player draft. If Dallas beats Toronto, or if Dallas beats the lowly Timberwolves in Minnesota on Sunday, then either Portland or the Lakers get the "play-in" booby prize.

If the Blazers descend into "play-in" hell, they'll be under major stress and could miss the real playoffs entirely. But you know what? If they fall into the "play-in" and survive, they'll get either Phoenix or Utah in the first round of the real playoffs. Based on the last couple of nights, I'd like Portland's chances against either of those two teams. Whereas if the Blazers avoid the "play-in," they get a week's rest, but then they still have to deal with Denver or the Clippers. Those would be quite ugly first-round opponents for Portland.

Anyway, nothing will be decided before lunchtime tomorrow, and the whole thing may be up in the air until sunset on Sunday.