Who might the Portland Trail Blazers face in the playoffs in April 2020, and what matchups should they fear or salivate at? I know what you’re thinking – the NBA preseason hasn’t even begun yet, so isn’t it a little early to be thinking about playoff opponents? Not at all! The fact that we are still in the NBA content dead zone is all the more reason to project all the way ahead to when the NBA matters the most. There’s still not much happening right now, which means it’s a great time to ignore the present and focus on the future. That said, let’s dive into some potential playoff matchups!
While many Western Conference teams will try to make the playoffs next season, and quite a few of them have legitimate changes to do so, there are only a handful of squads that appear to be locks for the postseason. It stands to reason that these are the teams that are most likely to face the Blazers, another probable postseason squad, when the playoffs finally roll around. As I detailed a couple months ago, I think the Blazers are one of eight teams likely to make the playoffs, with the Jazz, Rockets, Nuggets, Lakers, and Clippers possibly ahead, and the Spurs and Warriors in the same tier. Of all these teams, the only one I can’t see being a top seed is the Spurs, so they seem like unlikely playoff opponents for the Blazers, who I’d project to be in the 4-7 range. However, that means all other six are reasonable potential opponents. Here’s a quick look at which could be good matchups for the Blazers – and which could be tough.
Jazz: Utah has received a lot of buzz this summer. A lot of pundits pegged Donovan Mitchell as Team USA’s breakout star in FIBA (didn’t happen), Mike Conley is everyone’s favorite underrated point guard, and Rudy Gobert is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. However, the Blazers match up well with the Jazz. They have big bodies to throw at Gobert, particularly if Jusuf Nurkic is healthy, and the type of offensive creators in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to drag Gobert out of the paint. Also, while the Jazz have some good wings, none of them are offensive powerhouses that can ruthlessly punish the Blazers’ subpar wing rotation. The Jazz are going to be good, but the Blazers match up strongly with them.
Nuggets: The Nuggets added Jerami Grant this summer, while the Blazers underwent some changes of their own, but these are fundamentally the same teams that faced each other in the playoffs last year. It was a tight series, but the Blazers won, and they have a strong advantage at the guard positions against the Nuggets. Similarly to the Jazz, the Nuggets don’t have big wings who can take advantage of the Blazers’ lack of size, which plays to the Blazers advantage.
Rockets: The Rockets have two of the most talented players in the NBA in Russell Westbrook and James Harden. However, the Blazers already proved their effectiveness against Westbrook in last year’s playoffs, and have beaten Harden in the postseason as well. While Harden and Russ can score on the Blazers’ backcourt duo, they will probably be a highly flammable defensive pairing that the Blazers can light up in turn. This series would be very high scoring, and those types of series can go anyone’s direction.
Lakers: The biggest problem here is LeBron James. The Blazers have nobody on their roster remotely equipped to defend Bron, and while the Lakers will be no great shakes defensively, Danny Green and Avery Bradley are at least solid options on the Blazers’ star duo. LeBron James has single-handedly won dozens of playoff series over the past decade and a half, and the Blazers would likely be another team cast aside in his wake.
Clippers: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George probably aren’t quite as impossible a matchup for the Blazers as Bron, but Rodney Hood, Kent Bazemore, and the like are also under-equipped for that task too. The Clippers have plenty of size, length, and defensive versatility on the perimeter, with lots of options to throw at Dame and CJ. The Blazers would probably have the advantage inside, but the Clippers’ superstars seem like they’d just be able to create too many easy shots to slow down, barring an off series.
Warriors: The Warriors have beaten the Blazers three of the last four postseasons. Kevin Durant is no longer on the team, nor is Andre Iguodala, but the Warriors have proven to have the Blazers’ number. Steph Curry is Damian Lillard but just somewhat better, while Klay is an ideal defender to throw on either of the Blazers’ guards. Iggy’s departure would be huge, but Draymond Green remains a wild card that would likely swing the balance of any series between these two teams. The Blazers should avoid the Dubs at all cost.
Which teams would you put in which category, at first glance? Or do you believe the Blazers can bulldoze through anyone in their path this year?