clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Portland Trail Blazers 2014-15 Season Preview: Can The Blazers Win The NW Division?

The Blazer's Edge 2014-15 Portland Trail Blazers season preview continues as contributor Evans Clinchy asks whether or not the team can win the Northwest Division following Thunder forward Kevin Durant's preseason injury.

Dame goes head to head with Russ.
Dame goes head to head with Russ.

When news broke on Oct. 12 that Kevin Durant had fractured his foot and would miss 6-8 weeks, it was bad news for the entire NBA. It sent a shiver down the spine of every teammate, every coach, every Oklahoma City fan itching for another run at the No. 1 seed and every TV executive excited for the big ratings boost generated by the reigning MVP. Really, only one party stood to benefit from Durant's downfall -- the Trail Blazers, who now have an opportunity to get a big head start on winning the Northwest Division.

Can the Blazers pull it off? The franchise hasn't won a division title since before the Northwest even existed -- the year was 1999, the division was the Pacific and the season was shortened to 50 games by a tumultuous lockout. Portland will now attempt to reach the top of the mountain again, 16 years later.

There's a problem, though. Put simply -- you can't count on the Thunder to collapse just because they're missing one star. There's a precedent for this. Last year, OKC had to endure 36 games without Russell Westbrook, as the point guard was forced to undergo multiple knee surgeries, and look what happened. The team was 34-12 with Westbrook in the lineup, a winning percentage of .739, and 25-11 without him, or .694. In other words, you're looking at a 61-win team with Russ and a 57-win team without.

Furthermore, OKC's schedule is soft. If Durant misses the full eight weeks, the Thunder's challengers during that time will include one consecutive stretch of Sacramento, Milwaukee, Boston and Detroit, followed soon after by a run of Utah, the Knicks, New Orleans, Philly, Detroit again and Milwaukee again. Not exactly murderers' row.

The challenge facing the Blazers is to get a jump on the Northwest lead while Durant sits, but that may not be possible if OKC decides to start the year 15-5 anyway. There's a chance the Thunder wind up being really, really good, and if that happens, the Blazers will just have to be better. They'll need Damian Lillard to take it to another level and dominate, the rest of the starting five to stay solid (and healthy), the defense to improve by leaps and bounds and the bench to take shape. The Blazers aren't perfect, but they know where to improve and they have the tools to do it.

In any event, the question of the Northwest title is not going to be decided within 6-8 weeks. A basketball season, if you'll pardon the terrible cliché, is a marathon and not a sprint. If the Blazers really want to have a chance, they'll need to put the whole package together and keep it together for a good five-plus months. A few weeks of injury luck is not enough to get the job done.

Can this team win the division in 2015? It's certainly possible, but it won't come easy. From the very beginning, the Blazers will have their work cut out for them.

-- Evans Clinchy