The Trail Blazers’ storied 50-year history includes one title-winning squad and a handful of others that nearly reached the pinnacle of NBA success. SB Nation is putting together a historic field of teams that focuses on the latter in hopes of identifying the best team to never win a NBA Championship.
SB Nation will roll out 64 teams this week and they will eventually settle on a field of 32. The Blazers have four teams in the field. That list, with the help of our readers, will be reduced to a single team to represent Portland in the final bracket.
This post highlights the third Blazers team in the field, the 2013-14 squad.
2013-14 Trail Blazers
Regular Season Record: 54-28
Eventual Exit: Lost to the Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals (4-1)
Leading Scorer: LaMarcus Aldridge (23.2)
The 2013-14 Blazers come out of nowhere. Coming off a 33-win campaign, General Manager Neil Olshey added Robin Lopez and Mo Williams in the offseason. Not exactly moves that would normally vault a lottery team into contention — Vegas accordingly set Portland’s preseason over/under at 38.5.
But then the magic happened. LaMarcus Aldridge made the leap from reliable All-star to a legit All-NBA superstar. Damian Lillard avoided a sophomore slump and earned his first All-Star appearance. Nicolas Batum’s Swiss Army Knife potential was fully realized. Wes Matthews peaked as a 3&D weapon. Robin Lopez transformed overnight into a reliable starting center. Coach Terry Stotts probably could have convinced the Rose City he was an actual alchemist the way he had the whole of the roster outplaying the apparent sum of its parts.
Out of nowhere the Blazers sprinted to an NBA best 22-4 start. For a brief moment, Roy Hibbert and Aldridge vowing to meet each other in the Finals seemed like a not-so-crazy promise:
@aldridge_12 I believe u bro. We both competing hard. Tough post moves. Good luck in the West. We will see each other in the finals.— Roy Hibbert (@Roy_Meets_World) December 3, 2013
This team was so good and refreshing, even Bill Simmons had nice things to say about the Blazers.
The Blazers would end the season with 54 wins and meet the Houston Rockets in the first round. The teams were exactly evenly matched — three of the first four games went to overtime — and the highlights could have filled a full hour of SportsCenter.
Appropriately, the series ended on the rarest of rare moments. A series-winning buzzer beater, courtesy of Lillard:
To this day, it’s one of only nine series-ending walk-off shots in league history.
As good as the 2013-14 Blazers were, they ran into an absolute buzzsaw in the next round. The “Beautiful Game” Spurs stomped the Blazers on their way to the championship.
Other teams from the same era: The outcome of the Spurs series was telling. The 2014 Blazers weren’t quite good enough to win it all yet. Most notably, outside of Mo Williams, the bench didn’t offer much help.
The following season it looked like Olshey might have solved that problem. At the trade deadline the Blazers snagged Arron Afflalo from the Nuggets for a draft pick and spare parts (apologies to Will Barton, in hindsight). After a brief adjustment period integrating Afflalo into the lineup, Portland hit their stride and won five in a row — four of those wins came against Western Conference playoff teams. They looked even more legit than the team that beat the Rockets the year prior.
But it wouldn’t be a Trail Blazers story without injuries. 2015 was no exception. Toward the end of that five-game winning streak, Matthews blew out his Achilles. Throw in injuries to a couple other key players, and the loss of the team’s emotional core was more than it could handle. The Blazers stumbled to a 10-12 record down the stretch, losing to the Grizzlies in the first round. Aldridge left for San Antonio that offseason, prematurely ending an era that might have been in Portland.
You can check out the rest of today’s field of title-less teams at SB Nation.