The Portland Trail Blazers are one of four teams competing for the final playoff seed in the Western Conference. The Denver Nuggets, Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Blazers are all within three games in the loss column of the eighth spot. ESPN’s Zach Lowe spoke with Kevin Arnovitz about the playoff race on The Lowe Post podcast on Monday. Their discussion of the race for the 8-seed picks up at about the 44-minute mark.
Lowe initially discounts the Mavericks because they have the toughest remaining schedule and the Timberwolves because they are the furthest back and have to pass three other teams. That leaves the Nuggets and Blazers. Lowe had this to say about the Blazers:
Everyone kind of forgot about Portland in this race. They have the worst point differential which is why a lot of the metrics-based systems view them as a very long shot to make the playoffs. They’re just a game back; they have 10 home, seven road; they have the tiebreaker versus Denver right now with one game left—and that could be an absolutely monster game.
I kind of think Portland might do this. […] I look at the schedule, I look at the tie breaker—I kind of think Portland might pull this off.
Arnovitz is less convinced. He initially labels the race between Portland and Denver as a pick ‘em:
I really have this as a pick ‘em. I love the Blazers now with Nurkic. Order has been restored in Portland. They are doing what they do—scoring as efficiently as any team other than Houston since that trade. And, hey, it’s the Portland Trail Blazers you know and love: No. 2 on offense; No. 20 on defense; No. 1 in your heart. […] You forget this is a really deep team on the perimeter.
The two discuss the remaining schedules and point out that the Blazers have a more favorable schedule going forward. While Portland has 10 home games and seven road games remaining, Denver has seven home games and nine road games left. Both teams have significantly better home records than road records: 17-14 vs. 12-22 for Portland; 18-16 vs. 13-19 for Denver.
The last Blazers-Nuggets match-up is in Portland on March 28. The Blazers currently lead the season series 2-1 which gives them the tiebreaker. If the Nuggets wins that game to tie the series 2-2, the next tiebreaker is division record. Portland currently has the lead there at 7-3 vs. 5-8, but there are plenty of division games left to play.