2016-17 Predictions: Portland Trail Blazers, Western Conference, Playoffs

IT'S HERE! The Blazers will be taking the floor once again in games that count. Which means prediction time! How will they fare in this new season?

Portland Trail Blazers -

The good guys build on their surprise season and finish third in the West.

Lillard gets even better and solidifies himself as one of the very best. He becomes passable on defense and improves his driving game. Nobody dares snub him on the All-Star team, and he also makes the All-NBA 2nd team.

C.J McCollum continues his strong play, still a top scorer despite focus from the defense. Al-Farouq Aminu and Mason Plumlee also turn in second consecutive solid seasons. Mo Harkless continues to improve and gets his three-point percentage above 33%, making him a legit threat.

Allen Crabbe makes incremental improvements, some will complain that he is not playing up to his contract, but despite that comparison, turns in a good season. Evan Turner has a slow start, causing some murmurs of dissent, but as the season goes on picks up his play and becomes a beloved part of the team. Festus Ezeli is used sparingly as he recovers from injury but rounds in to form later in the season.

Ed Davis brings his usual efficiency and hustle. Meyers Leonard is inconsistent but shows signs of clicking. Crabbe, Turner, Leonard, and Ezeli/Davis by the end of the year form one of the best bench squads we've seen.

Noah Vonleh and Shabazz Napier play well when opportunities arise, making Terry Stotts' job difficult. Having 12 players who deserve to be in the rotation, with all except Plumlee having contracts next year, leads to more "consolidation" trade speculation.

The Rest of the West -

The Warriors take first to nobody's surprise. They do have adjustments and some weaknesses on defense, but overall talent is enough. McGee surprises many by becoming a part of the rotation. After expending energy last year to beat the record, the Warriors rest players leading to a less impressive (but still great) win total around 67.

The Clippers start strong and finish with the second seed, but are hampered by more injury and drama as the season passes. The Spurs continue to plug away without Duncan but finish in a somewhat disappointing 4th, although that is partially due to Popovich being cautious with minutes. They miss Diaw more than anticipated and are hurt by an injury to Gasol, but are fully healthy by playoff time.

Russell Westbrook puts up some of the best numbers we have seen recently and carries the Durantless Thunder to the fifth seed. The Grizzlies also get off to a hot start but have their momentum stalled by injuries and have a hard time keeping their top-four players all healthy. They finish just ahead of the Jazz for sixth. The Jazz after acquiring several key veterans and having hopes for a division win and homecourt advantage once again are hurt by injuries, and although they make it to the playoffs, it's only as seventh.

The eighth and final playoff seed comes down to a close contest between the all-offense Rockets, the defensively improved Mavericks, and the upstart Timberwolves. Dallas ends up coaxing one more playoff berth behind Dirk and Carlisle.

The Pelicans show flashes but end up disappointing, and speculation begins that Anthony Davis may grow restless if the wins don't start. The Suns look like a bright up-and-coming team with Devon Booker establishing himself as one of the league's best shooting guards and among the next stars, despite being only 20.

The Kings also show bright spots and improved coaching, but between internal drama, a misfit roster, and a deep conference, turn in another losing season leading to several deadline moves. The Nuggets continue to develop good pieces but are hurt by the lack of a great player. The L*kers come out of the season optimistic despite finishing last in the conference (in part due to a tank job to keep their pick).

The Playoffs -

GSW easily dispatches their old buddies in Dallas. An exhausted Thunder team shows heart but ends up no match for the Spurs group effort. The Clippers have a meltdown and lose homecourt advantage behind a strong defensive effort from the Jazz, but rally to win in six. Memphis, one of the toughest challenges for Portland over the past half-decade, looks to be a formidable opponent again. However, Portland overcomes them surprisingly quickly and ends the series in game 5.

San Antonio puts up a strong fight but can't overcome Golden State's talent. The Clippers take a 3-2 advantage over Portland in the 2nd round before being blown out in game 6, and losing game 7 behind an historic clutch performance by Lillard.

Portland makes it to the conference finals for a rematch. Several intriguing story lines emerge; Lillard's Oakland return, his disdain for superteams, Festus's return, drama started by Draymond Green (per usual), and of course, the individual matchup between stars Curry and Lillard. Portland hangs tough, but Golden State pulls away in the 4th quarter of game 6 behind a barrage of three pointers.

Despite a surprising second place finish in the conference in the regular season, Cleveland makes it to the finals for another rematch. The Warriors really hit their stride, and win the title in convincing fashion.

Bonus: The Aftermath -

Portland becomes a media sensation, but once again become underdogs attention shifts to division rivals Minnesota, new darlings of the league, and OKC after free agency.

The end of the Paul-Griffin-Jordan-Rivers era comes in LA in dramatic fashion after they once again fail to make the conference finals. Griffin joins Westbrook to form one of the most explosive duos of all time, on his hometown Thunder. Paul signs with the Knicks and banana boat buddy Carmelo (later joined on a discounted contract by a third banana boat member, a recovering Chris Bosh).

Gordon Hayward signs with former coach Brad Stevens and the Celtics, frustrating the hapless Utah Jazz.