The Portland Trail Blazers officially secured their spot in the NBA Playoffs with their double-overtime win over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday. It was win No. 46 on the season, and their current record of 47-27, with eight games left, leaves the magic number of 50 as a realistic end point. They’re also sitting as the West’s 3-seed at the moment, setting them up for home-court advantage in the playoffs.
To put it briefly: this has been a successful season for the Blazers.
Yet, various NBA writers, experts and prediction systems said it would be anything but a season worth celebrating before the season.
The Blazers were supposed to be a disappointing team. They were, some claimed, “to be headed for regression.” Odds were not in their favor to be a playoff team. Their reputation had been “damaged” after the previous season’s sweep by the Pelicans. An “implosion” seemed to be on the horizon, breaking up the Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum backcourt.
The purpose of pointing these opinions out isn’t to direct ire or call their expertise into question. At the end of the day, predictions are just that; even educated ones won’t always live up in reality. But it does highlight how there’s an ongoing trend of underestimating the Blazers. They’ve had lowered expectations since LaMarcus Aldridge left that have been continually proven wrong.
The Blazers aren’t headed to their sixth straight playoffs by accident. Lillard’s play and leadership are on display year round. McCollum is always ready to supply a scoring spark. Jusuf Nurkic brought a fire to the team on offense and defense. Various contributors have stepped up after the departure of three bench mainstays in Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton. And head coach Terry Stotts has provided a steadying hand like he has throughout his seven seasons.
There’s a reason the Blazers have embraced the underdog role: it seems like they’re the only ones that believe in themselves. It’s Portland vs. #THEY, and that’s how the Blazers apparently like it.
Now, the Blazers find themselves with more voices raining on their parade after the loss of Nurkic. They’re facing a “cold reality.” There’s a 7-reason debriefing about how Nurkic’s injury dooms them. They are, simply, “cooked.”
To be sure, these dead-in-the-water declarations aren’t all that crazy given Portland just lost its second most important player this season on the cusp of the playoffs. And no one is expecting the Blazers to make the Western Conference Finals currently, which was at least a slight possibility once upon a time with a healthy starting lineup (speaking of, we still don’t know when, or even if, McCollum will return from his popliteus strain).
However, wouldn’t it be just like the Blazers to take the overwhelming noise from outside sources and use it as fuel to finish the season strong, secure home-court advantage and even win their first-round series? They’ve already risen above the noise that came at the beginning of the season, why can’t they do it again?
It all starts with Damian Lillard. Betting against the star is a fool’s errand. Imagine how he might be viewed differently by casual fans if he leads this roster to a series win — the New Orleans series should become a distant memory. He’s probably already seen the proclamations that he and his team are through; has he ever been one to lie down? Absolutely not.
It’s hard to not view the season as lost with Nurkic out, which is completely understandable. But take a moment to enjoy the magic of this season, for however long it lasts. Not a lot of people saw it coming.