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 Coolstandings.com as well as bringing in some of my own amateur analysis.
Part 1: How many wins will it take?
Coolstandings and Kubatko predict the Suns will win 46 games this season, while Hollinger says they'll win 47. So, if the Blazers end up with 47 wins (a 9-12 finish), they would have a decent 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 47-48 games. The Jazz are projected to win around 50 (they are on fire but have a brutal closing schedule).
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 ~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 Blazers would need to beat Denver on the last day of the season and have the better division record. Unfortunately, Denver is 8-2 in division games while Portland is 6-5. It would take a crazy sequence of events for Portland to win the tiebreaker.
* 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. This tiebreaker isn't looking good either.
* San Antonio. Portland leads the series 2-1, but San Antonio has by far the better conference record (that's the 2nd tiebreaker since they aren't in our division). So Portland will need to win in San Antonio on April 8th.
* 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 22-14 in conference, Portland is 19-18. Not looking good.
* Houston. Series tied 1-1, 2 games remaining, 1 in each city. Houston is 24-11 in conference, so like the situation with the Spurs, Portland likely needs to win both of the last two games vs. Houston. AUnlikely 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. Phoenix is 20-14 in conference, significantly ahead of the Blazers, with a lot of tough conference games remaining. So, edge: Phoenix overall, but the Blazers do have a shot to win this 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. Result- W (102-84)
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. Result- W (107-105)
Mar 5. @ Denver- 10%. Back to back and playing a very good team at altitude? Recipe for disaster. Result- L (90-106)
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- 75%. Dallas has owned us this year, but we're at home and they'll be on a back to back.
Mar 13. New Jersey- 80%. 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- 80%. 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 13 games out of the final 21 with another 3 as tossups. I don't expect us to go 16-5 to close the season, but its not entirely out of the question. My gut tells me that 13-8 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. Adding up my percentages, I have us projected for 12-13 more wins, putting the Blazers right at 50-51 wins. Portland is in a bad situation tie-breaker wise, which could well cost them a seed and even homecourt, but they do have a shot to win the tiebreaker with the Suns should it come down for the 8 seed.