The Portland Trail Blazers are 2-0 so far without starting shooting guard CJ McCollum—out with a knee injury—and according to Dan Devine of The Ringer, that makes them one of the most interesting teams in all the NBA right now. Devine places the Blazers among the top five (team-oriented) stories in the league, and stands in wonder of Head Coact Terry Stotts’ ability to adapt. Or in this case, head back to a familiar well with point guard Damian Lillard...
Stotts has designed all manner of ways to get his scorers open over the years, but sometimes it’s best to stick to a simple formula that works: Give Dame a high screen right after he hits half court, force a defender to pick his poison by going under to take away the drive or going over to contest the pull-up, and watch one of the game’s most gifted orchestrators carve up whatever look the defense shows him. With the way Portland can space the floor, and how effective Jusuf Nurkic has been when diving to the hoop (he’s scoring on 58.8 percent of his possessions as a roll man
Though losing McCollum could become a blow to Portland’s 2019 Playoffs seeding hopes, Devine remains cautiously optimistic.
The Blazers will face tougher sledding than the limping Pacers and the shh-don’t-tell-anybody-we’re-tanking Mavs down the stretch, but winning the games you’re supposed to win can be huge at this stage in the season. Dispatching Dallas while the Rockets came up short in Memphis and the Spurs fell in Miami got Portland within a half-game of the third seed and boosted their fourth-place cushion to 2.5 games; according to the win probability metrics at Inpredictable, the Blazers now have 53 percent odds of landing in the no. 2, 3, or 4 spot, thus securing home-court advantage in Round 1, which could be huge if a returning McCollum is in any way compromised as the playoffs begin.
Devine also examines the Philadelphia 76ers racing for the NBA Finals, the Toronto Raptors trying to best them, Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra proving Stotts doesn’t have a monopoly on coaching genius, and the beautiful play of Memphis Grizzlies veteran Mike Conley.