The Trade Deadline has come and gone, and the NBA All-Star break is rapidly approaching. The 2019 NBA Playoffs race is starting to take shape, and the Portland Trail Blazers find themselves in the middle of a crowded Western Conference. While the top teams in the East made major moves, it was all quiet on the western front. In fact, the Blazers and Kings were the only real buyers out West. Portland improved it’s team marginally by acquiring Rodney Hood from the Cavaliers, but the small move could make a huge difference down the stretch.
With the Warriors still the heavy favorite to win the West, Portland’s main competition over the next couple of months will likely be the Nuggets, Jazz, Thunder, Spurs and Rockets. What do these five teams have in common? They all elected to stand pat during the trade deadline—with the exception of the Rockets acquiring Iman Shumpert, a much less impactful player than Hood at this point.
When playing at their best, there’s nothing holding the Blazers back from being the second-best team in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, most of their competition can say the same thing. But being the only team in the group to make an obvious improvement should give Portland a leg-up on their competitors, given how tight the race is.
Another factor that helps tip the scales in the Blazers’ favor is their depth—particularly the emergence of Jake Layman and new-found consistency out of Jusuf Nurkic. The team has shown that they can survive when Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum aren’t at their best, which is something you couldn’t say last season.
That being said, the trade deadline isn’t the end-all, be-all for acquiring players. The buyout market is alive and well, so the Blazers, and their competition, still have a chance to stockpile talent prior to the playoffs. In fact, the Blazers currently have a vacant roster spot—which could lead them to scour the waiver wire in the coming weeks.
The real wild cards in the Western playoff race are the Kings and Lakers—whom both made moves at the deadline. The Kings are currently locked into the eighth seed, but recently acquired veteran Harrison Barnes. They are an explosive young team, and shouldn’t be taken lightly—they are capable of moving up the standings should things click. The Lakers on the other hand, are a few games back in the standings, and in the midst of turmoil following the Anthony Davis debacle. However, they were able to acquire sharpshooter Reggie Bullock, which should improve their perimeter scoring. It would also be foolhardy to count out a team still featuring LeBron James, no matter the circumstances.
NBA fans should look forward to the exciting ride that will take place over the next couple of months. Blazers fans, while perhaps frustrated that the team didn’t make a big move, should take solace in the fact that their competition didn’t either. The schedule ahead is a bit daunting—as they play seven straight road games out of the All-Star break. Should they be able to weather the storm—and play to their full potential, they could be poised for a deep playoff run.