In the first half of the NBA season the Portland Trailblazers shocked the league and have been far more competitive than anyone thought they could be. Prior to the season, pundits looked at the Blazers as a young up-and-coming group. While they are that, they are proving that up-and-coming does not mean they can’t win games. They sit at 34-14 through Tuesday’s games, which is the third best record in the Western conference.
The question is how far can this young group go in the playoffs? The NBA is not known for having its champion come out of nowhere. In Major League Baseball, there have been teams that have won fewer than 90 games to win the World Series. In the NFL, teams can get hot late and carry that momentum to a title. In the NHL, a hot goaltender can carry a team to a Stanley Cup. In the NBA, it is a known commodity which handful of teams can compete for a championship prior to the season beginning for the most part.
This season that list would have included the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Indiana Pacers, and maybe the Chicago Bulls if Derrick Rose could stay healthy. The Bulls have obviously fallen off that list because Rose is injured. The Spurs are battling injuries and that could diminish their chances.
The Blazers have snuck into the conversation.
That may seem laughable at first glance but that does not make it false. The playoffs inevitably end up being about matchups. If things stay as they are currently, the Blazers would face the Phoenix Suns in the first round. The Suns are another team that no one thought highly of coming into the season. While they have played well this year, they have no answers for LaMarcus Aldridge or Damian Lillard. If coach Terry Stotts keeps Nicolas Batum guarding point guards, Goran Dragic would struggle against Batum’s length. Portland would win that series in five or six games at the most.
The Blazers would then move on to face the Spurs. The Spurs would be coming off of what would probably be a lengthy series against the Golden State Warriors. (Again the matchups are based on if the standings were to stay exactly the same as they are now.) With the Spurs coming off a difficult series and more than likely still not fully healthy, one could see the Blazer upsetting the Spurs in seven games.
That would mean the Blazers would make it to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2000. They would face the Thunder and it would be a thrilling series to watch. They have already defeated the Thunder in two out of their three meetings. Overcoming Kevin Durant and Co. will be a tall task. The Thunder has the edge in experience, having played in the Finals two seasons ago. They are also the deeper team.
If the Blazers are going to make noise come the postseason they’re going to likely need to make a trade to add more depth. Outside of Mo Williams, their bench is a liability. Against the Washington Wizards in their last game, the bench was outscored 26-6.
The Blazers don’t need a star, just someone to come off the bench and be consistent. They would love to get a guy like Evan Turner, who is having his best pro season, but the asking price is going to be too pricey.
Someone like Glen Davis would be interesting. He’d give more depth on the front line and bring some playoff experience to a young team. Getting him to a winning situation could bring the best out of him.
The Blazers appear to be building something special. They may want to see how this season plays out before they tinker with the roster. The problem is that one never knows how many chances a team is going to get to chase the title. A few seasons ago the Bulls were on the cusp of competing for a title, now there are thoughts on whether they should start over. The Blazers management should be cautious be not afraid to take a risk.
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