Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com runs down a list of fringe playoff teams and writes that the Portland Trail Blazers, currently the Western Conference's No. 8 seed with an 18-15 record, will be "hard-pressed to finish .500."
With an impressive 3-1 road trip to start 2013, the Blazers have opened a 1½-game lead for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. Yet somehow, the trip still managed to point out why there's skepticism the Blazers can keep up their above-.500 pace. Because all three of their wins came by five points or fewer, and their one loss was by 23 at Toronto, Portland was actually outscored on the road. The Blazers have now won a league-high eight games by margins of five or fewer, and their 8-2 record in such games is second to the Los Angeles Clippers (5-1, .833). That explains the difference between Portland's eighth-place record in the West and the team's minus-2.2 point differential, which ranks 11th.
Despite rookie Damian Lillard's late-game heroics, the Blazers will find it impossible to keep winning close games at their current rate. Add in a 2013 schedule rated the most difficult in the league by Rockets analyst Ed Kupfer and the Blazers will be hard-pressed to finish .500, let alone keep up with the crowded race for the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. Given that Portland is still accumulating young talent and owes Charlotte its first-round pick if it finishes outside the top 12, that's not such a bad thing.
Pelton writes that the Blazers are less likely to make the playoffs than both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, the two other teams he includes in the list of fringe playoff teams.
Pelton's SCHOENE system projected 32 wins for the Blazers before the season started.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter