24 Games Left: An assessment of Portland's Position Re: the Playoffs

I know I'm infringing on jscot's territory to some degree here, but I thought I'd bring in some more analysis on where the Blazers stand. In this post, I'm making use of work by John Hollinger, Justin Kubatko (who advises the Blazers now) and as well as bringing in some of my own amateur analysis.

Part 1:  How many wins will it take?

All 3 playoff probability reports linked to above predict the Suns will win 46 games this season.  So, if the Blazers end up with 46 wins (a 10-14 finish), they would have roughly a 50/50 shot at the 8 seed.  To feel comfortable, they are going to need to finish with closer to 50 wins.  All 3 reports predict Dallas to win 48 games.   Utah is an interesting case-- coolstandings has the Jazz wining 48, but Hollinger and Kubatko (both of whom give some weight to recent results predict 49 wins for the Jazz).  Personally, I predict the Jazz win 50 or more.

If Portland were able to get to 50 wins, that would likely place them between 5th and 7th.  For homecourt advantage, the Blazers would likely need 51-52 wins, and it would help to get the tiebreaker over teams like Houston and New Orleans.  Speaking of tiebreakers, the Blazers are in a bad position.  Let's take a closer look.

Part 2: Tiebreaker Situation

Below I'll examine each of the other  7 non-Lakers Western contenders and the Blazers chances of winning a tiebreaker with that team:

* Denver.  The teams have split the season series so far and face each other twice more.  Obviously, if one team wins both matchups, that team takes the tiebreaker.  If they split, division record is the 2nd tiebreaker.  Currently, Denver is 7-2 in the division.  They have 7 division games remaining: Portland, @ Utah (back-2-back), OKC, Utah, @ Minnesota, OKC, @ Portland.  The Blazers are 6-4 in division and have the 2 Denver games remaining, plus Minnesota, home and home with OKC and a home game with the Jazz.  Suffice it to say that if Portland doesn't sweep the last two Denver games, its very unlikely the Blazers will have the tiebreaker.  Big big game coming up next week in the Mile High City.

* Utah.  The Jazz are 2-1 against Portland this season.  To win the tiebreaker, Portland will need to beat the Jazz on March 31st (its in Portland and Utah will be on  a back to back, so edge: Blazers) and then finish with the better division record.  Unfortunately, Utah is 8-3 in division games.  The Jazz have games remaining home to Denver and Minnesota and on the road in Denver, Portland and OKC.  To have the tiebreaker against Utah, Portland will likely need to go 5-1 in its remaining division games.  Unfortunately, even that might not be good enough because the next tiebreaker is conference games, and Utah has by far the better conference record.  So, yeah-- not looking good.

* San Antonio.  Series tied 1-1, 2 games remaining.  San Antonio has an outstanding conference record, so Portland won't have the tiebreaker without winning the last two games.  Unlikely.  Update: With the Blazer win today, the tiebreaker will come down to the game on April 8th barring a crazy change in the conference records  Still not looking good because its a back-2-back in SA.

* Dallas.  This one's easy.  Dallas leads the series 2-0, and there's only one game remaining. Doh!

* New Orleans.  The teams split the season series 2-2, so it will come down to conference record.  NO is 21-14 in conference, Portland is 18-17.  Not looking good.

* Houston.  Series tied 1-1, 2 games remaining, 1 in each city.  Houston is 23-10 in conference, so like the situation with the Spurs, Portland likely needs to win the last two games vs. Houston.  Again, unlikely given the Blazers road performance against the West this season.

* Phoenix.  The Suns lead the series 2-1, so Portland  will need to win at home on March 26th to bring conference record into play.  Phoenix will be on a back to back, so edge: Blazers in that one.  Additionally, Phoenix is 19-14 in conference, just 2 games ahead of the Blazers, with a lot of tough conference games remaining.  So, edge: Phoenix overall, but the Blazers have a shot to win this tiebreaker.  In general though, the Blazers are better off not leaving anything up to a tiebreaker.

Part 3: Schedule Analysis

Below I list Portland's remaining games and assign a rough % chance of the Blazers winning it, based on opponent, location and back-2-back situation.  These are rough, and there will be plenty of room for disagreement. 

Mar 1. San Antonio- 55%.   Portland's won this type of game at home all year.

Mar  4. Indiana- 90%.  Portland's been great at home vs. losing teams and will be rested.  Indy will be on a back to back.

Mar 5.  @ Denver- 10%.  Back to back and playing a very good team at altitude?  Recipe for disaster.

Mar 7.  Minnesota- 90%.  Minny will be on a back to back.

Mar 9. LA Lakers- 35%.  Neither team on a back to back.  Portland has been great at home vs. LA the past few years.

Mar 11. Dallas- 65%.  Dallas has owned us this year, but we're at home and they'll be on a back to back.  I'm tempted to go as high as 70% for this one.

Mar 13. New Jersey- 75%.  No back to back for NJ but we should still win at home.

Mar 15. @ Atlanta- 40%.  A tough game on the road, but winnable.

Mar 16. @ Memphis- 75%.  Both teams on a back to back, so edge to the better team, even on the road.

Mar 18. @ Indiana- 50%.  We get a travel day, but this is still a tough road matchup.  Its been a while since Portland has won in Indy.

Mar 19. @ Cleveland- 5%.  Not that we'd be likely to win anyway, but on a back-2-back, we might as well pull a Poppovich and rest all our starters.

Mar 21. @ Milwaukee- 50%.  We're the better team, but Milwaukee is dangerous.  This is a tossup game in my book.  Could be the difference between a winning trip and a losing trip.

Mar 23. Philadelphia- 80%.  Philly plays in Sacramento the night before, boosting our chances.

Mar 26. Phoenix- 75%.  Phoenix on a back to back (home to Utah on the 25th).

Mar 28.  Memphis- 90%. Grizz will also be in Sac the night before.

Mar 31. Utah- 75%.  Utah hosts NY the night before-- they've been bad in back to backs this year.

Apr 3. @ OKC- 55%.  This game scares me, even though we should be ready after what happened last time we played there.

Apr 5. @ Houston- 25%.  Hard to be optomisitc about this one.

Apr 7. @ Memphis- 75%.  We've done well against the teams we should beat this year.

Apr 8. @ SA- 10%. Impossible to be optomistic about a back-2-back in SA.  Ends a tough 4 game road trip.

Apr 10. LA Lakers- 50%.   The Lakers host Denver the night before, so I'm actually going to give us the tinyest of edges in this one.  Basically a tossup.

Apr 11. @ LA Clippers- 60%.  Tough back to back if the Clips have Davis/Zbo/Camby healthy.  If they are injury decimated again, this percentage obviously goes way up.

Apr 13. OKC- 75%.  We should handle them at home, but it might not be easy.  They have a rest day before this one.

Apr 15. Denver- 70%.  I like our chances for a home win the last day of the season.  Denver gets a travel day after hosting Sac on the 13th.

So... I have us favored in 15 games out of the final 24 with another 3 as tossups.  I don't expect us to go 17-7 to close the season, but its not entirely out of the question.  My gut tells me that 15-9 is more likely, which would mean a 51 win season.  The two critical stretches are the 5 game road trip (Atl, Mem, Ind, Cle, Mil) and the 6 game stretch from March 31- April 8 (Utah, @ OKC, @ Hou, @ Mem, @ SA, LAL).

Part 4: Summary

There's a decent chance 47 wins will be enough for the playoffs but Portland would be wise to try to grab another 2-3 to be safe.  I believe they can get to 51, which would likely be enough for a 4-6 seed.  Portland is in a bad situation tie-breaker wise, which could well cost them a seed and even homecourt, but they aren't in a terrible tiebreaker situation with Phoenix should it come down to that for the final playoff spot.

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