The Portland Trail Blazers still have a winning record despite all that has transpired this season, which puts them firmly in the race for the NBA Championship. Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report examines why, exactly, the Blazers could succeed — or not. Naturally, one reason the Blazers could win the chip is Damian Lillard. Despite the absence of so many starters, the Blazers have kept going.
The Blazers have played 47 games so far. CJ McCollum missed 25 of them. Nurkic missed 32. Zach Collins hasn’t played one. Surely a rash of injuries like that buried this team, right? They wouldn’t be on this list if that was the case.
Somehow, Lillard has kept everything afloat, getting Portland to sixth in the conference standings and fifth in offensive efficiency. Now, that McCollum and Lillard are back, Robert Covington is fire-balling everything he launches and Norman Powell is hitting the ground running, Lillard and Co. can spend their stretch run climbing on both fronts.
But there is one caution: defense.
For all of Portland’s offensive success, this team has a negative net rating on the year (minus-0.2). Turns out, allowing opponents to average 116.6 points per 100 possessions—second-most in the NBA—is bad for the bottom line.
The Lillard-McCollum backcourt is always going to be defensively challenged, and when Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter are in the same rotation, it’s the real-world equivalent of turning the opponent’s sliders up.
Hopefully the Blazers find their defense sometime this spring.
You can read the entire piece here.