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A Statistical Look at Potential First-Round Playoff Opponents for the Portland Trail Blazers

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Despite their recent injuries, the Blazers are a lock to make the NBA playoffs. Here’s a look at the teams they might play against, and which opponent they could steal a series from.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

With under ten games left in the regular season, and the Western Conference representatives in the 2019 NBA Playoffs almost set (the Kings have a tragic number of three), it’s time to turn attention towards the postseason. The Portland Trail Blazers have been one of the better and more consistent teams in the conference this season, but have been devastated by injuries over the past couple weeks, first losing CJ McCollum to a knee injury, and then Jusuf Nurkic to a horrific compound leg fracture. Still, even without Nurkic and with the potential of a less-than-healthy McCollum, the Blazers are dangerous due to the flamethrowing abilities of Damian Lillard. How far does that danger extend, though? Which matchups should the Blazers want to see?

Here’s a brief statistical look at the teams the Blazers might face and what a potential matchup with them would look like. The Warriors and Nuggets have been excluded, as they’re almost certain to finish with a top two seed, and it seems unlikely that the Blazers would fall to the 7th or 8th spot.

The table is organized with each team’s net rating (per NBA.com as of Wednesday afternoon), along with pace and one other interesting stat in which the team does something very well or very poorly. The Blazers are shown as well as a comparison. A breakdown of each team comes below the table.

Potential Blazers’ Playoff Opponents

Team Net Rating Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Pace Other Notable Stat
Team Net Rating Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Pace Other Notable Stat
Portland Trail Blazers 3.6 (8th) 113.2 (4th) 109.6 (16th) 100.2 (18th) OREB% 30.3 (2nd)
Houston Rockets 3.2 (10th) 113.9 (2nd) 110.7 (22nd) 98.27 (27th) 53.9 AST% (29th)
LA Clippers 1.5 (12th) 111.4 (9th) 109.9 (18th) 102.49 (8th) 29.9% FGA 3PT (28th)
Utah Jazz 4.7 (5th) 109.7 (15th) 105.0 (2nd) 100.76 (14th) DREB% 76 (1st)
OKC Thunder 3.2 (9th) 109.2 (16th) 106.0 (4th) 103.76 (4th) TS% 54.4 (26th)
San Antonio Spurs 1.4 (13th) 112.0 (7th) 110.6 (20th) 99.12 (22nd) TOV% 12.1 (1st)

Houston Rockets:

Most people would probably say the Rockets are the second most dangerous team in the Western Conference in a playoff series. Most of that has to do with their high-powered offense, which ranks 2nd in the NBA due to the dominance of MVP-candidate James Harden. The Rockets have certainly been hot lately, and Harden is absolutely terrifying. But they also might sneakily be one of the best matchups for the Blazers (without Nurkic).

The Blazers probably won’t be stopping many teams in the playoffs without Nurkic, so they will need to outscore teams. And while the Rockets have a near-historic offense, they also have zero players who can stop (or even slow, probably) Lillard or CJ McCollum. Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute are gone, and Chris Paul has lost a step. Their second best perimeter defender might well be Austin Rivers. Their offense is also one-dimensional and iso-dependent (as seen by their very low assist percentage). If the Blazers can just get a couple cold games from Harden, and a couple scorching hot ones from Lillard (both possibilities), they have a real chance against the Rockets.

LA Clippers:

The Clippers have the least top-end talent of any of the likely playoff teams, which automatically makes them a not-awful option for the Blazers in a potential series. Their defense isn’t great either, which is good news for the Blazers. However, the Clippers’ defense has been better since their moves at the deadline, and they have four plus perimeter defenders in Pat Beverley, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Garrett Temple, and Ty Wallace. None of them is exactly a Dame or CJ stopper, but they’re all reasonable options against the Blazers’ star guards, and could make scoring a challenge for them.

On the other end, Nurkic was crucial in slowing the Clippers’ big men, and swallowing up their smaller guards around the rim. Without his presence in the paint, the Lou WilliamsMontrezl Harrell pick and roll could flourish, and the already outmatched Blazers’ bench is a horrible mismatch against the Clippers’ historic reserve unit. The Blazers would have a good shot against the Clippers because Dame would be the best player by a significant margin, but at bottom the matchup is not a great one for them.

Utah Jazz:

The Jazz are a nightmarish matchup for the Blazers sans Nurkic. Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors are monstrous mismatches inside for any of Portland’s non-Nurkic big men, and should be able to dominate the paint on both ends. The Jazz’ fantastic defense will have one less threat to worry about, and can focus entirely on constricting the Blazers’ guards. One of McCollum or Lillard would also presumably have to check Donovan Mitchell, tiring them out further. Additionally, one of the Blazers’ advantages this season (though it would be less so without Nurkic) has been their offensive rebounding, and the Jazz are the best defensive rebounding team in the NBA. This would be a bad, bad draw.

Oklahoma City Thunder:

The Thunder are much like the Jazz statistically, just slightly worse offensively and defensively. The Thunder have struggled of late, as Paul George has tailed off and Russell Westbrook has continued to misfire from all over the court. However, George and Westbrook could each be the best player in a Thunder-Blazers series, and Steven Adams will run amok with no Nurkic to slow him down. The Thunder are prone to cold spells (look at their efficiency), and the Blazers might have a chance if George and Westbrook have a couple off-games – the Thunder’s depth is not a strong suit. On the other hand, the Thunder would seem to have the defense and star-power to get a series win over a depleted Blazers team.

Really, the Thunder are the most variable team in the Western Conference playoff picture, and that’s both good and bad. There’s a chance that Westbrook and George stand out, the Thunder’s defense is restrictive, and they stomp the Blazers in a sweep. There’s also a chance that Westbrook continues to Westbrick, George is discomforted by the length of Al-Farouq Aminu, and the Blazers are able to sneak by a more talented team.

San Antonio Spurs:

This is the matchup that the Blazers should want. Popovich or no Popovich, the Spurs are the least-talented team of the Western Conference playoff hopefuls, and it’s incredible they’ve been as good as they have this season. Still, they have the worst net rating of any team in this group, and their defense has been bad to awful all season. Derrick White is an incredible defensive player, but the rest of the Spurs’ perimeter defenders are significantly below par, so one of McCollum or Dame should have a great matchup. LaMarcus Aldridge is a beast, sure, but the Blazers still have a bunch of big, long bodies to throw at him, and they have defensive players to match up against DeMar DeRozan. The Spurs remain the Spurs (they’re the best team in the NBA at not turning the ball over), but their poor defense and lack of superstar talent make them the matchup the Blazers have the best chance of winning.