After a sub-par 2012-13 NBA season where they missed the playoffs, Portland got off to a blazing start this year and jumped to the top of the Western Conference standings. As of late however, the Trailblazers have dropped down to the middle of the pack in the West.
The Trailblazers have gone .500 in their last 10 games and currently rank fifth place in the Western Conference with a record of 47-27. Despite their slide down the standings, the Blazers look to be on their way to their first playoff berth since the 2010-11 NBA season.
Portland was represented well at this year’s NBA All-Star game, as both LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard were selected to play for the Western Conference. The two All-Stars have been the leaders for this year’s Blazers squad, and are one of the main reasons that Portland are in the middle of the playoff hunt.
Since Aldridge returned to the line up from a back injury, Portland has won two games in a row. Aldridge is eighth in the NBA in scoring at 23.1 points per game and sixth in the league in rebounding with 11.2 per game. Portland is one of two teams in the NBA to have two or more players averaging 20 points or more on the year.
Along with LaMarcus Aldridge’s 23.1 points per game, Damian Lillard is averaging 21.0 points per game for Portland while handing out 5.5 assists per game. Lillard has already made a mark on the NBA, as he participated in five events at All-Star weekend this year, and has become one of the leader’s on a Western Conference playoff team. All of this and he is still in just his second year in the NBA.
Player to Watch in the Playoffs
The Blazers offense relies heavily on outside shooting and as a result they are at the bottom of the league in points in the paint. To keep their offensive rhythm during the playoffs, outside shooters such as Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum will have to score at a consistent pace for the Blazers.
Matthews and Batum are averaging 16.4 and 13.0 points respectively for Portland this year, and both are shooting just under 40 percent from the three-point line. If Matthews, Batum and the rest of the Blazers are knocking down outside jumpers, it will be a challenge for other teams to keep up with them offensively.
If the jump shots are not falling for Portland, their offense often goes stagnant. The Blazers truly do live and die by the jump shot.
How Will Their Season End
If the playoff picture remains the same in the Western Conference, the Trailblazers will have a tough time getting out of the first round. Currently Portland would face Houston in the opening round of the playoffs, which presents a tough match up for the Trailblazers.
Portland’s defense has been known to be focused on forcing teams away from the three-point line and force them to try to get to the rim. Unfortunately for the Blazers, this is where the Rockets strength lies. James Harden likes to drive to the rim whenever he can, and Dwight Howard has been a force on the offensive glass as of late for Houston.
Even if Portland ends up facing Houston in the first round, the Blazers always have the threat of getting hot from beyond the arc and just dominating the game from the outside. Portland will be a tough out for any team they face in the Western Conference playoffs.
Commentary By Eric Kummel