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Answering the Eternal Playoffs-Lottery Question for the Trail Blazers

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Dave Deckard of Blazer’s Edge comes up with a slightly different answer than in past years and explains why.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers stand at 28-35, hanging on to 9th place in the NBA’s Western Conference by a thread. They’re 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for 8th place. A 3.5-game swing the other direction would tie them with the 13th-place Phoenix Suns.

The Blazers are in an easy schedule stretch, their last big chance to make up ground before the final weeks of the season. A question popping up among Blazers fans: “Do we really want them to?” Do the metrics still favor the Blazers making the playoffs at all costs, or would a higher pick in the 2020 NBA Draft offset the loss of the postseason this year? That’s the question from today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.

Dave,

I have an easy but big question for your and your readers: Make the playoffs or not? Which are you rooting for? Also who would the NBA want most?

Bob S

My response to this is ALWAYS that the team should win every game they possibly can. Anything else subverts the culture and the purpose for being there. It also plants uncomfortable seeds in the minds of the best players. Why be an excellent, self-sacrificing superstar on a team that doesn’t care about winning? If I root for anything, I root for wins.

Let’s presume the team keeps a “win-always” culture intact, but shift the variables to how often “always” will be and how they’ll end up in the standings compared to their opponents. If we make that distinction—that we don’t want them to lose, but they might anyway—I don’t think there’s any question. Missing the playoffs would be far better than making them this year.

The answer has been different in past years when Portland didn’t have the mettle or the forging that can only come through post-season play. In that setting, every drop of playoffs basketball was educational.

Last season the Blazers made it to the Western Conference Finals. In the process they put away an Oklahoma City team that had given them fits all year, plus the Denver Nuggets on the road in seven games. That’s exactly the kind of experience they lacked prior.

They could certainly use more of the same, even now. The problem is, they’re not likely to get it in the 2020 NBA Playoffs. All but the most pie-in-the-sky scenarios would have Portland earning the 8th seed. That would almost certainly leave them matched against LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Los Angeles Lakers. The chances of victory in that series are infinitesimal. Portland’s defense, at least the version they’ve displayed so far, barely holds up against mediocre teams in the regular season. They’d struggle to win a single game against two of the best players in the league with a solid week to prepare for them.

This isn’t 2017. Getting smashed in the first round is not going to teach the Blazers anything. If aliens landed on earth with the sole mission of making the galaxy’s best gourmet hamburger, they might start at Burger King just to get the idea of what a burger is. Once they’d moved on to experimenting with Kobe beef and brioche buns, returning for another Whopper wouldn’t do anything for them. That’s exactly where Portland is with the playoffs right now. If they can discover a new high-end topping, great. If they’re just ordering off the dollar menu, though, they’d be better saving their money for something else.

The chance at an upper lottery pick—or even a slightly higher regular-type lottery selection—will bring more to Portland than a minuscule chance of emerging from the first round.

Bob didn’t just ask me, though, Blazer’s Edge Readers. Do you agree that the parameters have changed this year and that, finally, missing the playoffs would be a more favorable outcome than making them (as long as the team continues to try 100% in each game on the way)? Share your thoughts below and feel free to send your own questions to blazersub@gmail.com!

P.S. Who would the NBA (and the national media) want most? I’m guessing, in order, it would be:

  1. Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans because new superstar vs. old superstar. They’d play that up as Kobe vs. MJ.
  2. Damian Lillard, Carmelo Anthony, and the Portland Trail Blazers because of overall star power.
  3. Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies because same as Zion, just less.
  4. Not the San Antonio Spurs. They’re pretty boring.
  5. Please God, not the Sacramento Kings. Just no.