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Will The Portland Trail Blazers Be A Dark Horse Playoff Candidate?

The Blazers have turned a few heads early on. How many more tricks do they have left up their sleeves?

Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers surprised many by jumping out to a 4-4 start this season. After a particularly brutal talent turnover in free agency, it was widely assumed that the Blazers would be among the woebegone teams vying for a high draft pick next summer. While that is not out of the question this early on, Austin Peters of Hardwood Paroxysm reminds us that the Blazers could surprise even further and earn a playoff spot, or at least be in the running, if things break their way.

After eight games, it’s starting to seem possible that Portland could recreate the type of a season Phoenix had in 2013-14. That year, it took a crazy number of 49 wins just to make the playoffs in the West. Portland has the advantage of injuries to other teams like the New Orleans Pelicans and the Mavericks to make a push and overtake some teams that were projected to finish higher than them.

Peters places much on the shoulders of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who have each come in red hot.

It all starts with their point guard. Damian Lillard is currently fifth in the league in scoring at 27.5 points per game, dishing out the eighth most assists at 7.3 per game, all while shooting 46.7 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three. It makes sense that Dame would have career-highs in all those categories given the larger burden he is having to carry without LaMarcus around anymore. Most players, however, shoot a lower percentage when they are asked to take on more offensive responsibility, and Lillard has stepped it up big time.

It helps to have a sidekick, and C.J. McCollum has been just that early this season. After missing almost his whole rookie season to a recurring foot injury and being a role player off the bench for his second season, McCollum has come out firing on all cylinders. C.J. is averaging 20.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.1 assists on 46.4 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from three through the first eight games of their season. Much like Eric Bledsoe did with an increased role in his first year with the Suns, McCollum has enjoyed being a mainstay in the starting lineup as opposed to being a backup point guard.

Peters even suggests that the burgeoning duo needs a nickname. Feel free to bounce ideas around in the comments below and check out the full article here.