All things considered, the Portland Trail Blazers have had a successful 2018-19 regular season to date. There have been some hiccups along the way, but a 31-20 record at this point puts them on pace for just shy of 50 wins (49.85 to be exact) - well ahead of their Vegas assigned 41.5 over/under. But will they reach 50?
50 is an arbitrary number, sure, but it’s generally accepted as the benchmark of a good regular season, with 41 wins saying “at least we didn’t have a losing season” and 60 being “we’re an elite team.” The Blazers aren’t elite, and a .500 finish at this point would necessitate a significant collapse going forward. Despite the pace, it might be a bit tough to get there.
After a bit of an easy stretch over the last three-plus weeks, the Blazers have the 10th most difficult schedule in the NBA going forward, with an average opponent winning percentage of .508. They’ve played a bit heavy at home so far this season, and play at the Moda Center only 13 more times this season - including The Utah Jazz (14-13 on the road), the Miami Heat (13-11), the Golden State Warriors (17-8), and Oklahoma City Thunder (14-11). The Denver Nuggets and Brooklyn Nets are both coming into town and are exactly .500 on the road. The Indiana Pacers are above .500 on the road but have lost Victor Oladipo for the season.
Portland has 18 of their 31 remaining games on the road, including a seven game road trip from February 21 to March 5. Fortunately, there are no back-to-backs on that trip, but it does include games against the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, and Toronto Raptors. No matter who you are, it’s tough to stay on the road for that long; doubly so for the Blazers, who have a .434 winning percentage on the road.
Fortunately for Portland, a quirk in their schedule has them getting some extra rest ahead of all of this. After beating the Hawks on Saturday, the Blazers don’t play again until Wednesday, then not again until the following Tuesday. That’s three games in 11 days, if you’re counting. Point guard Damian Lillard, who rested against the Hawks, has been dealing with a myriad of nagging injuries. So has Evan Turner. Frankly, at this point in the season every player is dealing with something. Getting that kind of recovery time is the equivalent of getting an additional All-Star Break. That can’t be overestimated.
Aside from health, Portland is going to need the new (old?) CJ McCollum to continue doing his thing. After having a bit of a down year, CJ has been back to his old tricks over the last 10 days; shooting nearly 49 percent from the floor, and 46 percent from beyond the arc, en route to 22/5/4 splits. Even if it’s by committee, seeing someone show up offensively from the forward positions will be necessary as well. Jake Layman has been the big story, but Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless, despite their obvious offensive limitations, have snuck in some nice games as well.
There are still real concerns about how this team will fare in the playoffs, when rotations get tighter and teams can hone in on Lillard and McCollum well out on the perimeter. But the Blazers have a real chance at reaching 50 or 51 wins. They may need a bit of good fortune to get there, but that’s a nice surprise considering the general feel around this team last summer.