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Blazers Playoff Picture: Portland Currently in Play-In

Is it too little, too late for the Portland Trail Blazers and their playoff aspirations? Can they make a splash if they manage to squeeze in to the postseason?

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Detroit Pistons David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

Just two days ago, the Portland Trail Blazers were the No. 13 seed in the NBA Western Conference standings. As it stands today, the Blazers have ascended to the No. 10 seed, safely within play-in contention — for now.

A lot can change in 48 hours with the No. 5 and No. 13 seeds in the West being separated by only 3.5 games. Just because Portland holds the No. 10 slot does not mean they have a gulf fixed between themselves and the teams nipping at their heels.

Here are the most up-to-date standings:

The Blazers are tied with the Los Angeles Lakers, and New Orleans Pelicans in record, but hold the tie-breaker over the latter two teams based on the criteria for tie-breaks.

The Blazers have finished their season series with the Lakers on Feb. 13. The two split their four matchups of the season. Therefore, Portland simply has to tie or exceed L.A’s record come season’s end to have the upper hand in the standings.

As for the reeling New Orleans Pelicans, Portland is knotted at a 1-1 tie in the season series, after a recent 121-110 loss to the Zion Williamson-less team on Mar. 1.

The Blazers will see the Pelicans twice more — the first of the two remaining matchups is slated for Mar. 12 at the Smoothie King Center, and the final game of the season series on Mar. 27 at the Moda Center. Williamson is expected to be available for the series finale. Williamson has been sidelined since Jan. 4, and the Pelicans have gone 8-20 in that span, free falling down the Western Conference standings.

Still in the mix are the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are 0.5 games behind Portland. Damian Lillard and company will square off against the Shai Gilgeous-Alexander-led Thunder for the final time on Mar. 26 in Portland. The Blazers are 0-3 against OKC this season, and must record more wins to fend them off.

Above the Blazers are the Utah Jazz, who also share the same record. Portland will play their final game of the season series against Utah on Mar. 22, while they currently own a 2-1 record against their Western Conference foe.

In order to ascend out of the play-in standings into safe playoff contention, Rip City will have to unseat the No. 8 seeded Los Angeles Clippers, No. 7 seeded Dallas Mavericks and No. 6 seeded Minnesota Timberwolves, who all have at least a two game advantage over them.

The Blazers will see the Clippers twice more, and attempt to take down the Timberwolves in their final matchup of the year. Every team running down the Blazers, and every team trying to maintain a steady lead, save the Dallas Mavericks, will all get their chance to face Portland at least one more time over the last 17 regular season games of 2023.

Jusuf Nurkic (ankle) and Anfernee Simons (calf) are both on the precipice of returning to action. The lineup of Nurkic, Simons, Lillard, Jerami Grant, and the recently traded Josh Hart was the third-highest scoring lineup in the NBA (min. 28 games played), scoring 39.5 points per game. The recent acquisition of Cam Reddish adds to their offensive potency.

Scoring doesn’t fare to be a problem for the Blazers down the stretch. On top of their formidable lineup, Lillard has been on a tear of late, averaging 40.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.5 assists on 47-40-91 shooting splits since after the All-Star break. This, added to the No. 6 clutch time team in the NBA (9.7 PPG) gives the Blazers all of the tools on offense conducive to cementing their place in the postseason.

The question remains if the Blazers will be able to complement their offense on the defensive side of the basketball. In the last five games that they’ve lost, they’ve been defeated by 11 points or greater. They own the fourth-worst defensive rating league wide (117.0) and post All-Star break, have conceded the most points in the paint in the NBA (60.6 PPG).