The Los Angeles Lakers didn’t have LeBron James. They didn’t have Magic Johnson. But somehow they still had a chance against the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.
The Blazers, always a team to play down to their opponents, played a motley crew of Los Angeles starters down to the wire at Staples Center in the hours after Johnson announced his abrupt resignation of his post atop the front office.
For his part, Maurice Harkless was one of the most valuable Blazers. On a night where he seemingly battled back and forth with L.A.’s Alex Caruso, Harkless notched a stat line of 26 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks.
But no play was bigger for the Blazers then when Harkless hit the game-winning shot from the corner immediately following a Seth Curry steal.
Thanks to a Houston Rockets loss at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday, the Blazers now control their own destiny for the third seed in the Western Conference playoffs. If they beat the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday at Moda Center in Portland, they will be able to take the third playoff ranking for the second year in a row.
More importantly, Portland needs Harkless to play at his peak for them to have a shot in the playoffs without Jusuf Nurkic, and it appears that he is slowly rounding into form. There is an idea that Harkless is a player who waits for the playoffs to really find motivation, and perhaps this late-season spark will push the Blazers past the agony of last year.