Portland had an inconsistent season but yet managed to finish with their highest win total (49) since the the 2014-15 season. They opened the season by absolutely obliterating Phoenix in their opener with the high point being a two month stretch when they only lost four times (Jan 16-March 18). Low points of the season include stumbling into the Christmas break 4-9 and finishing the season losing four of their last five games.
Damian Lillard had what many consider his finest season in the NBA. C.J. McCollum has looked great, and the supporting cast of Al-Farouq Aminu & Jusuf Nurkic have stepped up and been much more consistent lately.
Portland showed their resilience and finished 3rd in the extremely competitive West. The narrative that surrounds the much more publicized Golden State Warriors also circles around the Blazers - will they be able to “flip the switch” when the playoff lights shine?
Why They Will Win
Portland’s fortune lives and dies with their back-court dynamic duo of Lillard & McCollum. These two are more than capable of lighting up a scoreboard on any given night. Portland has had a stellar defense throughout the year - which the team had previously not been known for before this year. A combination of these two, an elite defense, and a lot of offensive boards (thanks Nurkic) makes Portland a dangerous team coming out of the West. In any close game too, I take Lillard over almost any player.
Why They Won’t
This series? Anthony Davis. He’s averaging career highs in points, assists and shooting stats - and nobody matches up very well with him on this Blazers team.
The West? Their biggest strength is negated against the two other teams higher in the conference. If they play Houston, you’re asking two average defenders to slow down one of the best offensive back-courts in history (Chris Paul & James Harden). If you play Golden State, these two are in for a long series against Curry & Thompson as that duo is ittle bit of a step up from their round one opponents who feature Jrue Holiday & Rajon Rondo.
Jusuf Nurkic. He has two jobs in this series. One is crashing the offensive boards & setting some great screens to spring his elite back-court. That one is fairly easy, as he’s done it for the season. The other isn’t as easy: slowing down Anthony Davis. He’s gone nuclear since Boogie went down, averaging 30.2 ppg (on 51% shooting) and 11.9 rebounds. Slowing down a MVP candidate is never easy, but if they make him work for his numbers & body him up, Portland has a great shot at winning this series.
Best Case Scenario:
Portland’s backcourt gets & stays hot, Nurkic eats offensive rebounds and slows down Davis. Then the Blazers would need to score an upset in round two to sneak into the WCF.
Worst Case Scenario:
The Blazers are upset by the unstoppable entity that is Anthony Davis (I’m not saying New Orleans. This team is Davis).