Yesterday we looked at three opponents the Portland Trail Blazers would not like to face in the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs. Today we’re completing the list of possible foes by looking at four teams the Blazers might want to line up against in Western Conference, Round 1. No playoffs opponent will be easy, but some are easier than others.
As was true yesterday, the list runs from toughest matchup for Portland to easiest. Who should the Blazers be salivating for?
Last 10: 6-4
Blazers record against this season: 4-0
Reasoning - The Blazers went 4-0 against the Thunder this year, including one win without Damian Lillard, which in itself is a positive sign for a Blazers vs Thunder first round battle.
The Thunder have talent on their team. The three-headed beast of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Steven Adams were never able to all put a good game together in any of the four matchups with the Blazers this year. Credit Portland’s defense for the good performances, but their style of play proposes problems to the Thunder.
The Thunder are the number one offensive rebounding team in the NBA by a substantial margin and also cause the most turnovers of any NBA team defensively. Those extra possessions are an intricate part of their success. Portland is a very good defensive rebounding team and has the fifth least turnovers of any team in the league. The Blazers dominated the rebounds in every game that these two teams faced off, essentially nullifying OKC’s greatest strength. Also worth noting: CJ McCollum seems to love playing against the Thunder, averaging over 28 points per game in the four regular season matches. That’s a nice jump from his 21.7 season average. Meanwhile, Carmelo Anthony seems to be on the fringes with his team and hasn’t been an effective weapon.
The Thunder are playing better than the Minnesota Timberwolves are at the moment, but if Jimmy Butler is healthy, provided those rebounding numbers are a trend and not a fluke, OKC is the better matchup for Portland.
Last 10: 5-5
Blazers record against this season: 2-1 (One game remaining)
Reasoning - The Nuggets are currently out of the playoff picture, whereas the Pelicans, who are tabbed as “easier” on this list, are currently in the 8 seed. The main reason for this is because the Nuggets, when fully healthy, like they should be in the playoffs, are the more dangerous team...inconsistent, but dangerous,
The huge 36-point game from Paul Millsap on Friday in Denver’s win over the Thunder, was a scary sign for potential playoff foes. Millsap, a four-time All-Star, missed the bulk of the season due to a wrist injury. Along with Gary Harris, he gives the Nuggets an overstock of game-changing talent to add to Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic.
To be fair, the Nuggets have looked better on paper than on the court all year, but if this team gets healthy and is able to sneak into the playoff picture, they could be a problem for anyone.
2. New Orleans Pelicans
Last 10: 4-6
Blazers record against this season: 2-2
Reasoning - The Pelicans have a once-in-a-generation talent in Anthony Davis, and he is hypothetically capable of winning a series on his own. But he, along with the bulk of the the roster [except for Rajon Rondo] have never played a substantial role in winning a playoff series.
Davis’ day will come, but I don’t see it with this team. Jrue Holiday has been a pleasant surprise and has stepped up as a number two option after Demarcus Cousins went down with a ruptured Achilles. Solid contributions from role players and the reincarnations of heavily traveled vets like Rondo and Emeka Okafor have helped New Orleans get into the thick of the playoff picture.
Statistically speaking, the Pelicans are pretty average across the board and have few weakness as a team. They play at a fast pace, so they are among the highest scoring offenses in the NBA. But they also give up the second most points of any team in the NBA. Their average margin of victory is 0.3, significantly lower than any other Western Conference playoff hopeful. The loss of Cousins, who was in the midst of a historical season, makes those numbers even more of a hindrance.
In the two victories over the Blazers this season, Cousins dominated. He was a nightmare for Portland; if he were healthy, this would be a different conversation. But it would take an extraordinary effort from Anthony Davis, even by his standards, to threaten Portland in the first round. When the two teams met last week, 36 points on 16-23 shooting, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 6 blocks from AD were not enough to push the Pelicans over the top, even on a sluggish night from the Blazers. How much more can one player do than that?
The Pelicans are solid, but solid doesnt get you out of the first round in the loaded Western Conference.
1. Los Angles Clippers
Last 10: 4-6
Blazers record against this season: 3-1
Reasoning - After losing franchise cornerstones Chris Paul and Blake Griffin over the past year, credit the Clippers with putting together a solid roster with a bright future.
That being said, Paul and Blake were always problems for Portland. With both of them absent in the previous three meetings, Portland found little resistance from the Clippers. The Blazers own a 3-0 against L.A. since Blake was traded in January.
The Clippers have managed to hang around the playoff picture but are just 1-6 against other teams on this list since the roster shakeup. They just don't have the same talent that these other teams do. As such, while there are things for Clippers fans to be optimistic about, a first round meeting against Portland is not one of them.
Which teams would you most and least prefer the Blazers play in the first round?? Let us know in the comment section!