The Portland Trailblazers started out the regular season very strongly, looking like the dark horse for Western Conference supremacy behind the Thunder and the Spurs, before fading out rather dramatically in the last few months prior to the playoffs, consequently ending “only” fifth of the very competitive Conference.
Now that the playoffs have started, however, Portland have looked unbelievably strong, with two wins on the road against Houston in the first round. One would assume that the Trailblazers shouldn’t have too much trouble going through this round with the advantage they have acquired, and if they keep cool at home, they could even sweep the Texan side. But with an unstoppable LaMarcus Aldridge and a staggeringly mature Damien Lillard, Portland have the potential to do more than just go through just the first round…
They could win the NBA Title.
Before you laugh that statement off, and dismiss it as me just getting carried away, let me justify why that hypothesis is far from being impossible. Of course, Portland are not the favorites, not even for the Western Conference crown, let alone the NBA crown. But from what we have seen so far, they are most certainly the main dark horse in these playoffs, and the surprising defeats from the Thunder and the Spurs only consolidate the fact that the Blazers have a real opening this year.
Because when I say that Aldridge has been unstoppable, I mean literally unstoppable; in the first two games of the playoffs he is averaging 44.5 points, 59% FG, 13 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. Yes, that is only over two games, but it also can’t be overlooked. Despite having to deal with an excellent Dwight Howard in the paint area, Aldridge has just blown by the Rockets in the first two games. LaMarcus is leading his team through this first round, even in 3P%! Having taken two three pointers, he has scored both, but of course that is strictly anecdotal.
However, the Blazers are far from being a one man team; Damien Lillard, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum have all had an important role to play for Portland so far. Damien Lillard being the most impressive. Hard to think that the first round game was his first ever playoff game, in which he scored 31 points and five assists, before struggling with his shot in game 2 (still scoring 18 points, but on 3/14 FG), but handing out 11 assists. Portland has a very complete and solid roster, with players like Mo Williams and Dorell Wright who can always be relied on to do their bit when coming off the bench, but also starters like Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews who work very well alongside the All-Star duo of Aldridge and Lillard.
Although taking two games on the road in Houston is a great achievement for any side, if the Blazers keep their cool and advance to the semis, they should be facing a team of a higher calibre: San Antonio. That is when it will be very interesting to see what the Blazers are made of. When you look at the direct match ups of the starting line-ups, however, Portland are not at much of a disadvantage, because Aldridge should manage to contain Duncan on defense, and then use his speed and agility to challenge the Hall of Famer on offense. Same applies to Lillard against Tony Parker. Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews would need to come up big to slow down Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili, but that is far from being impossible. Overall, although the Spurs would still obviously be favorites, Portland could have a chance, especially considering the fact that San Antonio are far from having booked their place in the semis, as they are at 1-1 against Texan rivals Dallas, who are putting up a solid fight. Ideally for Portland, the Spurs will take more than five games to get rid of Dallas, whilst they would sweep the Rockets, giving them plenty of time to prepare.
Of course, Portland will need to pull out many brilliant performances to keep advancing in the postseason, and although winning the NBA is a slightly exaggerated target, be ready to see Portland put up a great fight and possibly create a few upsets.
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