The Trail Blazers are enjoying an amazing March, amassing an 11-3 record, launching them into prime position to claim the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
This effort hasn’t gone unnoticed. ESPN’s Micah Adams has already crowned the Blazers as the favorite to beat out the Nuggets for the eighth seed. Adams points to the stellar play of Portland’s backcourt as the catalyst for the late-season revival.
Lillard and McCollum are scared of nobody, and both are more than capable of taking over a game. Ask a Blazers fan which one they'd rather have show up in a big game, and most would simply shrug and say "both." When they are cooking in tandem, the Blazers are tough to beat, as evidenced by their 6-2 record when both Lillard and McCollum finish with an average game score of at least 20.
ESPN’s article also goes on to highlight how Damian Lillard’s 29.6 points per game over the course of his last 14 outings is making a huge impact on the Blazers’ record.
Boil it down to one or the other being on, and it becomes evident that the Blazers are more dangerous when it's Lillard getting his. Although McCollum has taken another step in his development into a legitimate scoring machine, he's still clearly the second banana. Looking at games they've both played, their average game scores in wins is 22.2 for Lillard and 17.5 for McCollum. Since Jan. 1, the Blazers also have been 9.2 points per 100 possessions worse with Lillard off the court, compared to 2.9 points worse without McCollum.
If the Blazers are going to push into the postseason, it's most likely going to require an abundance of Lillard-time.
Visiting the playoffs for the fourth-consecutive year would certainly provide excitement in Portland this spring, but ESPN’s rosy outlook regarding the Blazers quickly fades once a prospective series with the Warriors looms.
ESPN gives the Warriors a 99 percent chance of advancing past the Blazers, predicting that Steve Kerr’s squad will do so in four games. Johnson paints a bleak picture for the Blazers after looking at the projections produced by the BPI.
The only point at which the Blazers would be favored to win this series is if they were up 3-0 (53 percent chance to advance). And Memphis and Denver would only have a 2.0 percent chance of beating the Warriors in the first round, if that's how this potential first-round matchup plays out.
Faced with a seemingly impossible path through the playoffs, perhaps the Blazers should channel their inner Lloyd Christmas?
Predictions aside, Portland’s march to the postseason faces a major obstacle tonight when the Nuggets and Mason Plumlee return to the Moda Center.