Yeah, I know. Portland really should be tanking for a quality draft pick. The argument makes sense; after underachieving all season, the Blazers have a chance to pick up some young talent on rookie deals and do a soft reset after a disappointing season. That certainly beats a first-round date with either the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs, right?
I’m not so sure about that.
Don’t get me wrong, I felt that way for most of the season—especially once it became apparent that this team as constructed wasn’t going to live up to the expectations set last year. I even tried reasoning with myself; the Clippers lost their two best players, the Golden State Warriors only outscoring Portland in their second-round matchup by just over four points per game was fool’s gold, and the Blazers are still multiple pieces away from being able to hold their own against the Western Conference’s elite.
I guess when it comes down to it, I don’t really care about all that.
As Trail Blazers fans, we want to see this team win, right? Tell me you haven’t had more fun over the last 17 days then you have all season, as the Blazers have ripped off eight wins in 10 games, while being one inexplicable no-call away from being 9-1 in their last 10. This is the type of play we’ve been waiting for all season long, seeing it emerge for a quarter, or a half, or even a full game—but never with any consistency.
Since Jusuf Nurkić joined the team, this has looked like a different group altogether. Outside of his individual numbers, which have been very promising, Nurkić has made everyone better, from freeing Damian Lillard up on the pick-and-roll to finding Noah Vonleh on the baseline while rolling down the lane. No disrespect to Mason Plumlee, who maximizes his talent about as much as anyone in the NBA, but Nurkić was exactly what this team needed to make a run.
Despite the disappointing win total, and despite this team likely finishing right around .500 for the season, they’re playing their best basketball right when it counts. And after they finished up a 4-1 road trip that included wins over San Antonio and a red-hot Miami Heat team, I want to see what this team can do in the playoffs.
Are they going to have a realistic chance? Well, probably not. The Warriors and Spurs are elite teams built for basketball in April, May, and June.
But I’m not sure that I care.
I analyze this team and write about them here on this website and talk about them on-air every week and there is no denying that from a logical, analytical standpoint, a lottery pick is the best move. But I’m a fan at heart. I want my team to win. I want to see them compete in high-stakes games and feel like they have chance to make some noise on the big stage. I want to be in the Moda Center when it’s rocking. I want to have random conversations about the Blazers with people I don’t know because the entire city of Portland is buzzing about the team.
After months of disappointment, a season in which Evan Turner struggled to integrate himself, Festus Ezeli didn’t play a single minute, and Allen Crabbe looked invisible for long stretches, I’m going relish in the fact that we have a great leader who is averaging 30 points per game since the All-Star break, that our 22-year-old center is showing more promise than we’ve seen out of a big man since 2009, and that Crabbe and Noah Vonleh seem to have recently figured out how to make their mark on a game.
In a season like this, one in which watching this team night-in and night-out has been an exercise in self-punishment as much as it’s been entertaining, this current March run has been a breath of fresh air. With 10 of their final 13 games at home against and a bevvy of soft opponents coming up, there is a reasonable chance that Portland can enter the first round having played winning basketball for over a month straight. We all knew the Blazers had a soft schedule to close the season, but I doubt any of us saw a potential 17-6 finish to the season back on Feb. 15.
Winning has a funny effect. As fans, when our team is struggling, we tend to over-analyze everything—“This player needs to do X more”, “The team needs to strategically rest these two players,” “We need to maximize ping-pong balls.” But winning tends to quiet most of that chatter down and let fans simply enjoy their team. It, as the saying goes, cures everything, letting us put all of that other stuff aside and just ride the emotional wave that only sports can take us on.
This stretch has been the most fun I’ve had as a fan all season long, and I want it to last as long as possible. You can tell me that this is a historically deep draft and that the Blazers would be foolish not to maximize their chances of getting an impact player, let alone that the odds of Portland even mustering up a competitive first-round match up are minuscule.
Logically you would be right , but believing in this team just feels too good right now. Besides, as illogical as it is, I wouldn’t bet against Lillard and McCollum keeping Portland competitive in a first-round series. Would you?
Only one team wins the NBA Championship each year and it was never going to be the Blazers this season, even under the best of conditions. I get that winning a championship is the goal, but it’s not the only goal. You can’t tell me this hasn’t been a great month to be a Blazer fan. Isn’t that the whole point? To have fun as fans?
Let’s see how far these guys can take it.