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Who Can the Trail Blazers Pass in the Western Conference Playoffs Race?

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The Blazers are out of the playoffs right now - but do they have a chance to make a run?

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 NBA All-Star Break is here, marking the official (if not statistical) mid-way point of the season. It’s a time for fans to refresh, recharge, and get ready for the stretch run or start beefing up on NBA Draft Lottery prospects.

With only around a third of the season left, the Western Conference has separated into tiers. The Lakers are clearly on top, with the Clippers, Nuggets, Jazz, and Rockets in hot pursuit. The Thunder and Mavs surprisingly hold firm grasps on lower playoff spots, while most of the rest of the conference is attempting to snag the 8th seed. The Portland Trail Blazers are squarely in that mix, and are competing with at least seven other teams for one of those final spots.

Here’s a look at where those teams stand at the All Star Break, and what their schedules look like the rest of the way.

Western Conference 8th Seed Race Remaining Schedule

Teams Record SOS Home Games Away Games
Teams Record SOS Home Games Away Games
Thunder 33-22 0.512 12 15
Mavs 33-22 0.495 12 15
Grizzlies 28-26 0.554 12 16
Blazers 25-31 0.467 15 11
Spurs 23-31 0.488 15 13
Pelicans 23-32 0.449 13 14
Suns 22-33 0.522 12 15
Kings 21-33 0.487 15 13

The Blazers are not in an awful spot here. They have the second-easiest schedule of any teams in this group and are tied for the most home games the rest of the way. With the way Damian Lillard plays in Portland, that’s a huge advantage. However, the strength of their playoff push will probably come down to their injuries – when will Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins come back, and how healthy will they look when they do return? If the answer to those questions is soon and close to 100% respectively (doubtful for Nurkic in particular), the Blazers could make a real push. If one or both of those player outcomes is less optimistic, the Blazers could be in trouble. Here’s a brief look at each of the other teams and the strength of their overall standing at the break.

Thunder: OKC should feel pretty secure. While they have a tougher strength of schedule, and fewer games at home, they have a fairly significant lead on the non-Mavs teams, and are pretty healthy at the moment. With the deadline passed, there is no fear that their veterans might get moved. Chance Blazers pass: unlikely.

Mavs: The Mavs are in a nearly identical boat to the Thunder, with the same record, same number of home games, and a slightly easier strength of schedule. However, they’re possibly even more secure in their place, as they upgraded their roster a little at the trade deadline, and have one of the best players in the NBA in Luka Doncic. It would presumably take a Luka injury (knock on wood) for them to fall out of the playoffs. Chance Blazers pass: doubtful.

Grizzlies: Really, the Blazers’ best shot is if the Grizzlies stumble. The Grizz are young, with all their best players outside of Jonas Valanciunas being in their first couple years in the NBA. They also have the most difficult remaining schedule in the entire league, with multiple contests against the Raptors and Lakers still to come. The Griz have more road games than home contests remaining, and are a team that thrives in Memphis. If their young guys start hitting the rookie wall, or they enter a prolonged losing streak, the Blazers could take advantage. On the other hand, while they did lose a couple key players at the deadline, the Griz have been an excellent team for months now, and look pretty legit. Chance Blazers pass: moderate.

Spurs: The Spurs are the Spurs, and until they miss the layoffs it will be difficult to believe that they can. But San Antonio simply hasn’t been all that good this year, and while their remaining schedule is not difficult and home heavy, they really haven’t sustained much success all season. The Spurs should never be counted out, but this really feels like the year they fall to the lottery. Chance they pass the Blazers: low-moderate.

Pelicans: The Pelicans might be the most interesting team on here. Zion Williamson has been everything advertised and more since his return, and is already the Pels’ best player. They’ve been much better since he’s returned, and have by far the easiest remaining schedule. If Brandon Ingram can get healthy, and Zion continues to play at his current level, they have an outside shot to make a run. Chance they pass the Blazers: moderate.

Suns: The hype around the Suns to start the season feels like eons ago. Phoenix isn’t bad, per se, but they have not been impressive for a long time, despite the excellence of Devin Booker. The Suns sat still at the deadline, and that combined with their difficult and road-heavy schedule means they might have the lowest odds of making a run. Chance they pass the Blazers: doubtful.

Kings: The Kings have been better of late after their dreadful stretch of play earlier in the season, and have a pretty decent core group of talent. Their remaining schedule isn’t difficult, and is home-heavy, but the Kings are the opposite of the Spurs: they never, ever inspire faith. If De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and Bogdan Bogdanovic get hot for a sustained stretch the Kings could make a bit of noise, but Luke Walton has not impressed as head coach, and there are just so many teams ahead of them. Chance they pass the Blazers: low.

Overall, I think the Blazers have a chance to make a playoff run. Outside of maybe the Pelicans, none of the teams behind them in the standings inspire too much fear, and the Blazers have the best player of any of those teams in Damian Lillard. On the other hand, the Thunder and Mavs’ leads are quite significant, virtually out of reach. At this point, it all comes down to the Grizzlies – if Memphis’ youngsters slip, and Portland gets their cavalry back in time, they could absolutely secure that 8th spot. There’s still decent odds against them, but with the way Lillard is playing, it’s impossible to count the Blazers out until they’re mathematically eliminated.