The Portland Trail Blazers have had a topsy-turvy season. Their 30-19 record ranks them 6th in the NBA’s Western Conference. They’re 7.5 games ahead of the 10th-place Golden State Warriors, the cut-off for the play-in tournament for the 2021 NBA Playoffs. The Blazers are also exactly 7.5 games behind the Utah Jazz, ranked first in the conference, setting the standard for the NBA elite this year.
Given injuries to CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, and Zach Collins, the Blazers have to be happy with a .612 winning percentage, battling in the thick of the playoffs seeding race. At the same time, their record has been built on the back of wins against inferior opponents. They’re 22-7 against teams below .500, just 8-12 against teams above. Their margin of victory ranks them closer to the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies than the Los Angeles Clippers or Lakers.
Several Trail Blazers players have played above their heads this year. Robert Covington is shooting 40% from the three-point arc while improving Portland’s defense every time he steps on the floor. Carmelo Anthony is scoring more points per minute than anybody on the roster save the starting guards. Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little have become deadly from distance. Enes Kanter ranks second in the NBA in total offensive rebounds, tenth in defensive. Atop it all, Damian Lillard is playing at a legitimate MVP level.
Despite this, you can’t shake the feeling of “Been Here, Done This” that’s dogging the team. That’s been more than evident over the past week. The Blazers have won 5 of their last 6 games...no small feat with four of those contests coming on the road. But every one of Portland’s victories came against opponents with serious injury issues, in some case against teams barely fielding an NBA-quality lineup. Their loss to the Milwaukee Bucks—the only good team in the bunch—held all the suspense of a WWE mid-card talent, after earning wins against The Hurricane and Heath Slater, now being fed to John Cena. The Brooklyn Brawler isn’t showing up in the playoffs brackets; the Brooklyn Nets will.
The end result is the customary mix of hope and head-scratching that has become a Blazers hallmark. A deeper roster, a transcendent superstar, and a better record still aren’t adding up to enough. 6th place in the Western Conference is good for Portland. It’s not where the optimists were hoping the team would be after Covington, Kanter, and Derek Jones, Jr. came on board this summer.
Here’s the question for the day: are the Blazers meeting your expectations? After tonight’s game against the L.A. Clippers, 70% of the regular season will be done. 17 of Portland’s remaining 23 games come against teams who would make the playoffs if the season ended today, with 3 more against 9th seeds who would participate in the play-in tournament. The competition is about to get intense, the season heading down rails that will make or break it.
In short, this may be the last moment when expectations can be debated as if they matter. Whatever we thought, or think, we’re about to find out.
Standing at the top of the slope, looking down at the run to the finish line, let’s pause and ask the question: Is this what you envisioned for the Blazers? Or is it better, or worse, and why? Please also share what you think will happen down the stretch, with 20 of 23 remaining games against playoffs-possible teams, 19 of 23 against teams with .500 records or better. Will Portland continue to win at a 60% clip as the season closes, will they climb higher, or do you expect them to slip? Discuss in the comments below.