The Portland Trail Blazers have been on a roller coaster ride this season, darting off to a 10-4 start to their 2022-23 campaign before falling backwards to their current 13-11 record. Alternating between thrilling, then prosaic, results is unsettling to those who want to get a handle on this team and its eventual destiny. That’s the topic of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
How do you rate this team right now? First we were contenders, then the losing. The last games have been better but not really confidence building. I know Dame has been injured and that’s why but we can’t expect him to be 100% all the time. Is this who they are? I can’t read whether I should plan to attend a parade or hope for Wemby.
Nick in Southeast
What if this is who the Trail Blazers are, though?
13-11 isn’t the lower end of the bell curve when it comes to potential early-season results, especially with Damian Lillard injured, as you cite. The Blazers have won a bunch of close, thrilling games. A bounce or two the other way and they could have been 9-15. They’ve also gotten hammered by a few teams that took advantage of their systemic weaknesses. Fair enough. We knew they had them, right?
I’ll tell you how this team reads to me: young. Some nights they look like world-beaters, Other nights they look like they’re dribbling a dodecahedron.
That’s not unexpected. The Blazers do rank among the youngest teams in the league. We’ll also invoke the constantly-repeated mantra from the opening weeks of the season...they’re not used to playing together yet. That they’re clicking as well as they are is incredible. 90% of the time, they look amazing on offense. The defensive percentage is less, but give them through the All-Star break to be able to read each other and opponents well. It’s probably not going to be pristine, but it’ll get more reliable. Or at least predictable.
Nobody anticipated Portland starting the season 10-4. Losing 8 of 10 after was surprising too. Zoom out a little, though. They own a 13-11 record. They rely on offense to make up for an occasionally-permeable defense. They falter when they can’t generate points. They turn over the ball a bunch. They also shine brilliantly through three star scorers. They often play inspired, energetic fourth quarters after three periods of ups and downs in which energy vacillates. They have a habit of exciting you and breaking your heart in equal measure.
Even though the micro-results have been weird, that zoomed-out picture looks just about as you’d expect for a team like Portland. They’re not contenders. They’re not terrible. They’re a young team with potential, doing what young teams with potential do in the NBA: win some, lose some, and show you a good time while doing it.
Defining the team by their hot start or their dismal recent streak would be misleading. They’re capable of both. Familiarity will increase the margin of their success as time goes by. Giving consistent effort would help too. Their luminary Big 3 will keep them from falling too far, as long as they stay healthy. All of those things offer hope for Portland to stay on the high side of middle. That’s where I, personally, expect them to be, not in spite of all the things we’ve named, but because of them.
Getting past that point to more will take something different, I’m thinking. We’ll tackle that in Part 2 of your question tomorrow, Nick.
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