When you’re the reigning NBA World Champions, as the Golden State Warriors are, the entire NBA Regular Season becomes a preamble to the main event of the playoffs. When a champion looks as dominant as the Warriors have been, one question dominates the psyche of contenders: Can we knock them off? The singular 61-14 record of the Houston Rockets offers its own answer. Is anyone else in the Western Conference capable of overcoming those two leaders? How about the Portland Trail Blazers, owners of a healthy 46 wins so far this season, sitting pretty in the 3rd position in the Western Conference Playoffs race? A couple weeks from now, Portland’s focus, and their future, will narrow to that same, overarching query: Do they have any chance of overcoming Golden State or Houston?
Joe Morgan of Sporting News tackled this question for all the Western Conference teams poised to face the Rockets and Warriors in the post-season, including the Blazers. Of Portland, he says:
Does anyone want to play Portland right now? The Trail Blazers have won 16 of their last 20 games with Damian Lillard pushing his name into the MVP conversation... Lillard is averaging 28.9 points per game since the All-Star break while shooting 36.0 percent from beyond the arc on 9.4 attempts per game.
But Portland is not winning solely because of its offense. The Blazers have the ninth-best defensive rating in the NBA (104.5) and sixth-best since the All-Star break (102.6). They are much more consistent on both sides of the ball.
With Lillard and CJ McCollum capable of carrying the Blazers offensively on any given night, a banged-up Warriors team and the unproven Rockets cannot take them lightly.