It may surprise you, but the Portland Trail Blazers are 16-3, first in the Northwest Division, and absolutely contenders in the Western Conference.
First, the record is stunning. Anytime a team starts 16-3, the league should take notice. The schedule was not all puffball teams, either; with marquee wins over Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers. It’s one of the NBA’s most compelling stories, for sure.
Second, is the question of how are the Trail Blazers this good? Remember, this is a team that went 33-49 last season. A disappointing season for sure, but the 2011-12 Trail Blazers, with stronger veteran leadership (Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace) started strong before fizzling away into the background as well. But, why should we buy into this year’s version?
Simply put, these Trail Blazers are legitimate threats. After the 2011-12 season, when the team tanked and traded away Wallace to get what turned out to be Damian Lillard, the entire franchise was on the right track. This season, the bench was upgraded with backup point guard, Mo Williams, starting center Robin Lopez, super prospects Thomas Robinson and C.J. McCollum, and another year of seasoning from Meyers Leonard.
The starting five for the Trail Blazers rival any unit in the league. There’s elite shooting from four positions. LaMarcus Aldridge is having a career-year despite taking more of his offense into the midrange department. Nicolas Batum is the Swiss army knife of the offense with the ability to handle the rock and play from deep. Wesley Matthews is the deep threat averaging 2.7 three-pointers a game. And the point of attack is the super offensive Damian Lillard, who averages 20.2 points per game.
While critics may point out the porous defense in “Rip City,” keep in mind that this is by design. To watch the defense is to watch a typical NFL team playing defensive 2-minute drills. It’s basically a “prevent” defense built to prevent good looks around the three-point line and around the 18-20 feet area. Because the Portland offense is elite, it can live with the risks of post-up play (if there still is any in the league today).
So, watch for Portland this year because these Blazers are here to stay.
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