The Portland Trail Blazers will be in far better position when the 2019-20 NBA Season resumes than they were when it went on hiatus on March 11th due to the COVID-19 virus. Their record won’t have changed, but the break will have cured many of their woes, putting them on more equal footing with opponents than they were prior.
In today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag, we’re going to summarize the advantages that Portland got because of the restart. We’ve covered some of this before, but here it is, all in one place.
Hey Dave, I saw tweeted that you were on the radio and said this summer could be good for the Blazers more than other teams. I couldn’t hear the interview, so can you summarize why you think it could be better?
Injuries are the most obvious factor. Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins were slated to come back at some indeterminate point in March. By the time the season resumes, they’ll have had almost five extra months to recuperate. Had the Blazers started the season healthy, Nurk and Zach would have been in the starting lineup. This will be the first time all year that the Blazers could be considered anywhere near whole. As a result, they’ll take the biggest leap from pre-hiatus to post of any team in the league. (Kyle Garcia wrote last week about the difference this could make.)
Defense has been Portland’s worst attribute this year. Through 66 games, they were 26th out of 30 teams in points allowed, 27th in Defensive Rating. Nurkic was a huge key to Portland’s defense in 2018-19, while Collins’ best attribute is defense. The Blazers will not only get a big boost, it’ll be targeted just where they need it.
If anything, offense could be Portland’s issue if they start a frontcourt with Collins, Hassan Whiteside, and Trevor Ariza. They’ll probably take that problem over defensive permissiveness though. Besides, Head Coach Terry Stotts can mix-and-match players in the rotation freely. Nurkic probably won’t be ready for 35 minutes a night; there’s no obligation to play Collins that much.
Momentum and Rhythm
Let’s face it: no team in the league was more in need of a restart than the Blazers. Their 29-37 performance was, to put it politely, anemic. They held a 5-9 record in the last 14 games played before the season stopped. They were going nowhere.
Between the extended break and odd start-up schedule, the rhythm of the entire league will be thrown off. The first few weeks of the “new” season will resemble a normal October in the NBA more than a dash for the playoffs. The opening month is notoriously fickle as teams find their footing.
Portland’s continuity in July shouldn’t be any worse than that of their competitors. This was not the case back in March. Adding new players to the lineup wouldn’t have improved the situation either. Watching other teams struggle to find each other again this summer will be a big bonus for the Blazers.
Schedule and Format
Technically, the Blazers did have a chance of making up their four-loss deficit to the 8th seed Memphis Grizzlies had the final 16 games of the season played out as scheduled. Even playing Memphis twice, that would have been a tall order.
With the new, restart rules, the Blazers only have to remain within four games of the Grizzlies in order to get a chance at a post-season play-in. Instead of having to leap a large gap, they just have to not lose ground. They even get a percentage advantage over virtually-tied Sacramento and New Orleans. What more could you ask for?
Hot in the Playoffs
The same roster returns that make Portland more dangerous in the lead-up games will boost them in the actual playoffs tournament as well, should they make it. Nobody would have minded facing the 8th-seeded Blazers as it was. Now, with continuity randomized, Portland might actually be dangerous.
Seven-game series have bled almost all chance out of the NBA postseason, but if there’s ever a year where a random team could get hot at the right time and excel, this is it. Nobody has the potential to get hotter than Portland.
Damian Lillard had a torrential outpouring of points between December 26th and February 7th, but his performance waned as winter turned to spring, a side effect of fatigue and injury. Lillard was inactive for six games between February 21st and March 2nd. He shot below .400 in two of the four games for which he returned before the hiatus.
Five months off should benefit Lillard as much as the more overtly-injured Blazers. Combined with the potential for randomness in the system, that could be a huge factor in Portland’s favor.
As Eric Griffith detailed on Tuesday, non-existent homecourt advantage and distribution of unexpected injuries could also work in Portland’s favor.
For all these reasons, the Blazers are FAR better off in this re-started season than they would have been in the regular one. There are no guarantees, of course. Chances are they’ll still go down, maybe even with a whimper. But when you had no chance at all, even a longshot looks plenty good.
Besides, with the consolation prize being a spot in the draft lottery, what more could you wish for? The Blazers have nothing to lose and everything to win as the season resumes.
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