Winners of three consecutive games, the Trail Blazers have climbed back into the the Western Conference postseason picture. Portland’s sub-500 record represents a slight shift in the normal sturdiness of the competition in the Western Conference, an item that was featured in The Athletic’s look at the race for the final two playoff spots.
Before outlining the teams that comprise the bottom of the conference, The Athletic’s John Hollinger framed the discussion with a look back at the last two decades.
A West team with a losing record hasn’t made the playoffs since 1997; on average, since 2000 it’s taken 45.4 wins to earn the 8th seed, and even the conference’s 9th seed has won 42.8. (Pro-rating for the shortened 2012-13 season).
Hollinger goes on to rank and discuss the prospects of each team that is competing for the final two spots. When looking at the Blazers’ chances, Hollinger detailed Portland’s injuries and potential trade aspirations.
The Blazers clearly have work to do if they hope to contend during the rest of Damian Lillard’s prime. Despite all the brave talk in training camp, this current incarnation is a million miles away. However, they may make the playoffs in spite of multiple injuries and virtually nonexistent bench production, just because somebody in this conference has to.
Portland’s motivations could get in the way, however. The team currently sits $12 million into the luxury tax. Its willingness to pay it just to get obliterated in the first round by one of the L.A. teams will be a major determining factor in where it finishes. So, too, will any deals it makes between now and February to address the roster. With multiple expiring contracts and all of their draft picks, the Blazers are in a strong position to make a move that adds a player under contract for next season — raising the ceiling on a more promising 2020-21 season, but also perhaps helping them push for the top eight this season.
The Blazers have amassed an 8-7 record since veteran forward Carmelo Anthony joined the rotation. Winners of four of their last five, they trail the Thunder by a single win in the Western Conference standings.
After a brutal start to the season, the Blazers play four of their next five games in the Moda Center. Along with a friendlier schedule, Jusuf Nurkic is expected to rejoin the team around the All-Star break.
You can read Hollinger’s full post at The Athletic (subscription required).