It appears the NBA Playoff race will come right down to the wire, and the Portland Trail Blazers once again find themselves right in the middle of a crowded Western Conference. In fact, entering Wednesday, just four games separate the current third through eighth seeded teams in the West. Every win (and loss) down the stretch has the potential to alter the playoff bracket.
Obviously, the injuries to CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic will drastically affect how the Blazers play down the stretch, as well as their ability to compete in the post-season. However, there’s still reason for fans to have some optimism, as there is still talent on the roster (and the possibility of a McCollum return). The margin for error is virtually gone, but it would be unfair to completely abandon hope for a competitive first round series—which should be enough to make Rip City proud given the circumstances. With tempered expectations, let’s take a look at the team’s nine remaining games in the regular season.
One More Road Trip
March 27th @ Chicago
March 29th @ Atlanta
March 30th @ Detroit
April 1st @ Minnesota
Portland’s final road trip suddenly looks a bit more daunting than initially anticipated. McCollum will not be traveling with the team, and both the Bulls and Hawks have enough young talent to pull off the upset, especially against a short-handed opponent. The good news, however, is that it is hard to imagine the Blazers taking a team lightly at this point, given their current predicament.
Expect an inspired, “Win One For Nurk” performance against the Bulls, but the back-to-back against the Hawks and Pistons is a tough task—particularly with Detroit locked into a playoff positioning battle of their own. A 3-1 stretch over the trip would go a long way towards still securing a decent seed.
April 3rd vs. Memphis
April 5th @ Denver
April 7th vs. Denver
Admittedly, the two showdowns against the Nuggets have lost much of their luster now, as it’s tough to imagine Portland overtaking them for second—even if they are able to draw a split. The Nuggets won the first two match-ups of the season, so they need just one win to earn the tie-breaker, in addition to holding a four-game lead in the standings.
The Grizzlies fall into the same category as the Hawks and Bulls, and already beat the Blazers earlier this month—in addition to recent wins over the Rockets and Thunder. Jonas Valanciunas will be especially tough to stop without Nurkic, given the way he’s been playing since being acquired. It would be huge if CJ was able to return for at least part of this stretch, as all three games should be tough.
April 9th @ Lakers
April 10th @ Sacramento
Both the Lakers and Kings are out of playoff contention, and have wilted over the last few weeks. There’s a chance the Blazers could be locked into their spot by this point, but even if they aren’t, there’s also a very real possibility that one or both of the opposing clubs could be in vacation mode already. The best case scenario would be if the team was able to rest up a bit before the playoffs, but don’t expect them to lie down if seeding is still in doubt.
Do you expect the Blazers to play inspired, or fade into the sunset down the stretch? What win-loss mark would you consider to be a “success” over the final games? Let us now in the comments!