We now know that the Portland Trail Blazers must win against the Brooklyn Nets in their final seeding game tonight in order to advance to a play-in on Saturday for an 8th seed in the 2020 NBA Playoffs. On the surface, this looks like a mismatch. The Blazers are fully-stocked, while Brooklyn is missing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Plus Spencer Dinwiddie. Plus DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford. The Nets are set in their seed and have nothing to play for. Portland has beaten better teams in the bubble already.
That doesn’t mean this win will be a given for the Blazers. Whatever the paper says, here are three reasons this game may be harder than you think.
The Blazers have been in the habit of playing close games in the bubble no matter the quality of opponent. Only one game, a victory over the Denver Nuggets, has been decided by 10 points or more. Every contest has gone down to the final minutes. When the Los Angeles Clippers put in a third-string lineup against the Blazers to close a game, not only did Portland not earn an edge, they actually lost the game.
The Blazers don’t have the kind of depth or defense to sustain big runs and maintain margins. That might prove different tonight given the opponent and circumstances, but if so, that’ll be the first time.
Two Shooters from Three
The Nets are not a might three-point shooting team. They attempt the 5th most threes in the NBA but they’re 25th in three-point percentage.
This does not apply to Joe Harris, who is one of the premier perimeter shooters in the league. Presuming to play, the Blazers are going to have to choose a player to stick with him minute by minute. If Harris gets open from the arc—and let’s face it, the Blazers leave everyone open out there—he could produce superstar numbers.
Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot is no slouch either.
Caris LaVert’s Green Light
Caris LaVert has come up huge for the Nets in the bubble. He’s not a three-point threat, but 19 shots a game have accumulated him plenty of points. It’s not just the capacity to score, but the position from which he does it. Like Harris and Luwawu-Cabarrot, LaVert plays on the wings. Portland’s defensive strength usually comes on the inside with bigs. If Gary Trent Jr. and Wenyen Gabriel are set to hound Brooklyn’s wing players, the Blazers should do OK. Portland’s regular lineup could be vulnerable to LaVert’s attack, which would leave the Blazers a sickening choice between stopping him from scoring 30 or stopping his teammates from bombing away at the arc.
The Blazers have the firepower to blow away the Nets with offense alone, should the production remain high. That’s how Boston beat them last week. If Portland stumbles on offense, even the Bubble Nets are capable of keeping up. In that case, buckle up for another sickening nail-biter.