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Portland Trail Blazers: Contenders or Pretenders for NBA Title?

ESPN debates the contender status of various NBA teams, including the Blazers, and the results may be surprising.

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN's 5-on-5 Round Table recently discussed which NBA teams are contenders and which are pretenders.

This is what they had to say about the Portland Trailblazers:

Adande: Contender. They're still successful even though they can't catch teams off guard the way they did early last season. They've tightened their defense. They got their playoff baptism from the San Antonio Spurs, who probably taught the Blazers more by smoking them in the second round than Portland learned by beating Houston in the first round.

Arnovitz: Contender, so long as they stay in relatively good health. This was supposed to be a consolidation season, but some interesting stuff has emerged. The offensive efficiency has always been there, but the defense has been solid this season, which wasn't the case much of 2013-14. The much-maligned bench is also killing opponents, and the Blazers' four primary reserves lead the team in net rating. The West is wide open, and the Blazers are in the thick of it.

Elhassan: Pretender! While the Blazers boast one of the best and most complete starting fives in the league, bench depth is still a very real problem. Beyond Chris Kaman and Steve Blake, the Blazers' bench rotation has been a revolving door of "whoever's got it going," with no player definitively claiming the spot. That indicates that coach Terry Stotts hasn't totally trusted any one of them, and while that strategy has worked so far, it will only take the Blazers so far.

Gutierrez: Pretender. The Blazers started off last season strong as well, but what we learned is they're just not deep enough, and too jump-shot oriented to win consistently at a high level. There's not much different about this year's group.

Strauss: Contender. Hey, if they've really improved that defense, what's stopping them? They've changed their scheme a bit, using more help defense on drives, and it seems to be working. I'm pretty reductive when it comes to contention. If you're top 10 in both offense and defense, I usually think you can pull it off. The Blazers can achieve this.

The panel looked at four other teams, Cleveland Cavaliers, Washington Wizards, Houston Rockets, and Los Angeles Clippers and the Trailblazers were the only team of the five that received 3 votes for Contender.

A Hat Tip to Casey Holdahl and iknowmynameisstephen who first posted this story in Fanshots.