After dropping the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night, the Portland Trail Blazers gave themselves a bit of breathing room for the third seed in the NBA’s Western Conference. They currently sit two games over the Thunder (and hold the tie-breaker) and are two and a half games over the fifth place New Orleans Pelicans. While it remains to be seen whether the Blazers can hold on to their playoff seed, this is in all likelihood a 50 win group; traditionally the hallmark of a good team.
Much has been made of the Blazers’ difficult schedule down the stretch, but Portland has made it through the most perilous portion relatively unscathed. Obviously Portland put themselves in this position by winning 13 straight games from mid-February to mid-March after a slow start. Despite dropping two straight games late last week, the team got back on track against the Thunder and currently stands at 45-28 with only nine games to play.
The Blazers aren’t out of the woods yet. They still have tough games to play, including matchups against the New Orleans Pelicans, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, and Utah Jazz. Odds are good that Damian Lillard is going to (understandably) miss either the Pelicans or Memphis Grizzlies game this week due to the impending birth of his first child.
But the Blazers also have a spate of gimmes on the remaining schedule. After New Orleans, Portland plays the Grizzlies twice, plus the Mavericks and the Nuggets. Looking at the schedule, I’m not seeing five losses. Those 50 wins are on the horizon.
It’s tough to predict when Lillard is going to be out. If he misses the Pelicans game on Tuesday, you can probably chalk that one up as a loss. But if if he misses the Grizzlies on Wednesday, I still like the Blazers. Memphis is that bad this year. The Clippers might pose a bit of a problem, but then Portland draws games against Memphis (again) and the Mavericks; two teams tanking in favor of ping pong balls in this summer’s NBA draft lottery. Having three games against those two teams at this point in the season is a boon for a team in midst of the hunt for homecourt advantage.
Of course the Rockets and Spurs will cause problems, and I’m not banking on a win in either game. But looking at the schedule, there is an outside chance that the Rockets will have clinched the number one seed and will be looking to rest their starters, or at least limit their minutes. And of course, even without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs are always a tough out.
By the last week of the season, barring a winning streak, the Nuggets will be out of contention. Even if they are still in the mix for the eighth seed in the West, I like the Blazers’ chances over a Denver team that has had difficulty stringing together any sort of consistency. That takes them to the final game of the season against the Utah Jazz, which is anyone’s game.
Blazer fans never want to get ahead of themselves but, by my count, that’s three gimmes against the Grizzlies and Mavericks, two tough but winnable games against the Clippers and Nuggets, three even-money games against the Pelicans, Spurs, and Jazz, and one very tough match up against the Rockets (assuming they’re playing at full strength).
Should the Blazers get five of those games? Absolutely. The way this team is clicking, there is no reason they won’t handle business against the lesser teams and split the games against the more difficult teams. Assuming the Memphis and Dallas games are wins, all it take is wins over, say Denver and Los Angeles, to reach 50.
50 wins has to be considered a massive success for this group. Think about where this team was at the end of November or mid-December; coughing up easy games against the likes of the Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings. If you had told me then that you expected the Blazers to reach 50, I would have told you that you need your head examined.
With nine games remaining, what are your predictions for wins and losses against each team and what victory total will that render? And do you agree that 50 win will be a significant milestone, or do the Blazers need to do more to prove themselves? Comment below!