The NBA Playoffs are right around the corner and the Trail Blazers are once again in the middle of a late-season winning steak. Portland’s strong play has even the most weary Rip City faithful wondering if this squad is capable of snapping the team’s current streak of 10 consecutive postseason losses.
Unlike past years, the Blazers appear to have a deep bench and a balanced cast of contributors in the starting lineup. Buoyed by Jusuf Nurkic’s continuing ascension, Portland’s stellar backcourt finally appears ready to emerge from the first round of the playoffs after a two-year hiatus. Before burying the doubts of yesteryear, here are three benchmarks to watch for during the final stretch of the season.
Stymie A Star
The Thunder will visit Portland in less than a week to cap off the four-game regular season series between the two Northwest Division rivals. In three games this season, Paul George has produced eye-popping point totals in each outing. He has crossed the 35-point threshold in each contest and torched the Blazers for 47 points prior to the All-Star break.
The final matchup against OKC could prove to be crucial in the Western Conference standings and it will present Portland with a chance to re-tool their defensive approach when facing George. If the Blazers are unable to at least slow down an opponent’s best player, they could be careening towards another series that resembles Anthony Davis’ dominant play for the Pelicans last year.
Thrive Against A First-Round Opponent
Despite trading away arguably their best player in Tobias Harris, the Clippers are still in the hunt for a playoff spot. Right now, the two teams aren’t slotted to play each other in the opening round of the postseason. But things can change quickly in the Western Conference and the Clippers’ talent pool is on par with the teams that the Blazers are poised face in the first round.
After hosting the Thunder and Suns, the Blazers will journey to Los Angeles to face the Clippers for the final time this season. A decisive road victory after two days of rest would show that Portland is ready fulfill its position as a higher seed. Along with playoff implications, the Clippers’ experienced bench will be an excellent test for the Blazers’ new additions.
Portland’s April slate of games features back-to-back games against Denver. Both teams will be vying to avoid the Warriors in the playoff bracket for as long as possible, so both contests have the potential to carry serious significance. If the race for the final spot in the Western Conference is decided earlier than anticipated, the Nuggets could serve as the final playoff-bound opponent for the Blazers (Lakers and Kings round out the schedule).
It is unlikely that either coach will reveal too much this close to the playoffs, but the adjustments between games will be worth watching.
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