The Portland Trail Blazers have officially clinched their playoff berth. Can they be a threat in this year’s playoffs or will they fall short again?
The Portland Trail Blazers have officially punched their ticket to this year’s playoffs as they sit third in the Western Conference with a record of 48-29. With this year’s standings are neck and neck, the question has to be asked: could the Blazers be a threat in the postseason?
On paper, the Blazers have a lot of great things going for them. They have a lethal backcourt with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum; their frontcourt is strong; the roster is young. So this should be the recipe for success, right?
To answer that question, we need to look at three things. First, we are going to examine Lillard and see if he is capable of producing the same numbers in the postseason as he does in the regular season. Second, we are going to look at their depth. Do they have enough quality players to keep up with teams like the Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors — the favorites to win it all this year? Third, we are going to look at their record against some of the better teams in the West from this season. If they can’t beat them in the regular season, who’s to say they can do it in the postseason?
Can Damian Lillard play just as well during the playoffs as he has this regular season?
Lillard has been having a monster season so far. He is currently averaging 26.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.1 steals per game. Because of this, he is entrenched in MVP talks, earned his third All-Star nomination and is currently averaging the fifth highest points per game in the league.
Although these numbers are great, Lillard has to be able to carry the same amount of consistency into the playoffs. Can he do it? Why yes, yes he can. We have seen him do it before, and he should be able to do it again.
Let’s take a look at his numbers from last season’s playoffs. Lillard dominated by averaging 27.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals throughout the Blazers’ one round of action. They would later get knocked out in the first round by the eventual champion Golden State Warriors.
Even though they were swept, you cannot knock how well Lillard played. And to date back even further to his second career season (the first season he played in the playoffs), he was able to still average 22.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 6.5 assists. That was also the year he hit a game winner to advance to the second round.
At this point, it isn’t a matter of whether or not Lillard will play well. The question is how dominant will he be. Every year that he has made the playoffs, he has averaged over 20 points per game and handled his own in the rebound and assist columns. It seems like there isn’t much more he can do to help his team win.
Do the Portland Trail Blazers have enough depth to keep up with the league’s best teams?
We all know how great Lillard is, but it is still a team sport. In order to beat some teams like the Rockets or Warriors, then you have to have a solid group of players. Do the Portland Trail Blazers have that supporting cast to help Lillard and give them a chance at winning it all? The answer is, yes. Mostly.
The first player we are going to look at is Lillard’s sidekick, C.J. McCollum. The 2016 Most Improved Player is having himself a great season. He is averaging 21.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. These numbers seem good enough to be considered an All-Star right? We won’t get into all of that, but it is some food for thought.
The point is, McCollum is a great player, and when you team him up with Lillard, they make a case for one of the best backcourts in the NBA. And just like Lillard, McCollum has shown he can play well in the playoffs, too.
Another player who has been playing well this season is Jusuf Nurkic. In his fourth year, he is averaging 14.3 points and is also grabbing 8.7 rebounds per game, which leads the team. He is also averaging 1.4 blocks per contest.
These three players are great, but once you get past them, the team is kind of average. Al-Farouq Aminu and Shabazz Napier are doing well enough for us to talk about them, though. Animu is contributing 9.6 points and 7.6 rebounds and pairing those marks with excellent defense; Napier is posting 8.7 points and 1.7 steals.
I think it is safe to say the Blazers are deep enough to hang with some of the best teams. They have young players who are hungry to win, and it is going to show this season when the playoffs start.
If everyone can contribute like they have this regular season, don’t be surprised to see the Blazers make some noise this postseason.
How have the Portland Trail Blazers played against the best teams in the NBA this season?
The regular season in the NBA doesn’t say a lot, but it still shows who are the best teams. Playing well against said best teams can be a solid indicator of upcoming postseason success.
The first team we are going to look at is the Houston Rockets. The Blazers have lost all three meetings so far against the Rockets, with their last being just a couple weeks ago. What does this say about the Blazers? Well, it means that they struggle to contain this explosive team who currently holds the best record in the NBA.
The next team is going to be the Golden State Warriors. Although they have not had the best season compared to their recent ones, they are still always a favorite to win the title based on their star-studded lineup. The Blazers won the regular season series 2-1 against the Warriors, with both of their wins coming at home. This shows that the Blazers can beat Golden State, but they have to be able to pick up wins at home during the playoffs or they will struggle to win a series.
The last team we are going to look at is the Toronto Raptors. The two teams only played twice and the Raptors dominated both games by 14-plus points. Despite Lillard scoring 36 points in the first meeting, the Blazers struggled to pick up the win. This tells us that even if Lillard has a great game, the Blazers still need more from their role players if they want a chance at winning a series.
The Portland Trail Blazers have been up and down this season, but when it comes down to it they have what it takes to be a threat. It is just a matter of execution at this point. Their stars are solid; their bench is improved; they have held their own against the Warriors. If they can put it all together in the postseason, they may just be able to make a run.