With their tear through the months of February and March, the Portland Trail Blazers’ potential ceiling has been discussed so many times they might as well open a chandelier shop. Most of the talk has remained unabashedly positive, but Andrew Sharp of Sports Illustrated offered a more measured, if wistful, look at Portland’s prospects.
The first part of Sharp’s article focuses on Damian Lillard. Sharp admits right away that East Coast bias and curmudgeon-like doubts have conspired to keep Lillard lower on the national respect meter than he deserves. Even so, he admits that questions about Lillard and the Blazers have not been answered satisfactorily.
The questions persist because the holes in Lillard’s game are real. He’s struggled on defense. His shooting is streaky. His passing is just OK. There are many nights when he looks more like Kemba Walker than Steph Curry, and from a raw tools standpoint, Kemba is probably closer to the truth. Likewise, with Dame as the centerpiece, the Blazers have always been good and fun the past few years, but they’ve really never looked like contenders.
Is that last part changing? As Lillard enters the MVP conversation and the league begins to take this team seriously as a potential dark horse in the West, Tuesday night’s matchup against the league-best Rockets was the best test Portland’s had yet. They didn’t quite pass.
Sharp also remains unsold on Portland’s future arc:
I think embracing the skepticism is probably the best way to appreciate the Blazers from here. Nobody has to pretend this is a title team. When others demand that everyone acknowledge Portland’s place among the NBA elite, it rings hollow because if we’re being realistic about this, we all know better.
Still, that skepticism doesn’t come without regrets. Even national writers get a case of the “if only’s” sometimes...
The longer they keep this going, the more irresistible it becomes. And toward the end of the Rockets game Tuesday, it was clear that Houston had more talent and a more sustainable attack. But as great as the Rockets were, it was a lot more fun watching Lillard and the Blazers try to beat them.