Heading into the 2020-21 NBA season, the Portland Trail Blazers spent the offseason getting healthy and adding valuable pieces to the roster. With a nearly fully healthy roster and the addition of wing-depth, can this roster get over the hump in the Western Conference?
It’s safe to assume that Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic will act as the star trio of this bunch, but it’s all about the supporting cast this season. Have the Trail Blazers added enough to improve on the NBA’s 28th-ranked defense last season? If Portland has any sort of hopes for competing with the elite teams in the West, then this is the first place to start.
Portland Trail Blazers 2020-21 Season Preview
Reviewing the 2019-20 Campaign: Dame Dominates the Bubble
The Trail Blazers endured a tumultuous season plenty full of ups and downs in 2019-20. Overall, Portland finished 35-39, a subpar regular-season by their own standards. Before the NBA’s hiatus, the season was marred with underwhelming performances and key injuries to Nurkic and Zach Collins.
Then came the NBA Bubble and the magic of “Dame” Lillard in playoff-mode. Lillard went on to win the Kia NBA Player of the Seeding Games Award, leading Portland to a 6-2 record and the eighth seed in the West. Through the eight seeding games, Lillard recorded absurd averages of 37.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 9.6 assists per night. The cherry on top was his 61-point effort against the Dallas Mavericks in Portland’s penultimate seeding game.
Portland ended up squaring off against the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. LeBron James and the Lakers gentleman-swept Portland, a momentum-quashing defeat that included a knee injury to Lillard in Game Four.
Lillard and the Trail Blazers stole the initial headlines in the bubble before James was crowned, once again.
Portland’s front office knew it was crucial to address the team’s biggest weakness from last season, the 28th-ranked defense in the league. In one of the league’s best offseason moves, the front office acquired the highly versatile Robert Covington. The Trail Blazers brought Covington in on Nov. 16 through a trade with the Houston Rockets involving Trevor Ariza and future draft picks.
The front office wasn’t done making offseason splashes. Next, they added Enes Kanter and forward Derrick Jones Jr., two pieces adding depth at the wing and in the paint. Rodney Hood opted out of his contract only to re-sign for a better deal and Carmelo Anthony also returned on a one-year minimum deal. Portland added additional depth by signing the 6-foot-10 former Duke Blue Devil Harry Giles.
Head Coach Terry Stotts will have more than enough options to plug in on the wing next season. Jones Jr. likely takes over the starting job, but Stotts has several options after that between Hood, Covington, and Gary Trent Jr. Covington doubles up as a rotational option at power forward. Nurkic, Kanter, and Giles will begin the season as the main rotation at center. Portland will return Collins midway through the season and the depth will keep growing.
Portland Trail Blazers 2020-21 Season Prediction
The front office did an exceptional job this offseason, acquiring a host of relatively bigger-name NBA talent and depth to address the team’s biggest needs. Unfortunately, it all comes down to expectations. The league’s 28th-ranked defense is sure to improve with the likes of Covington, Jones Jr., and Kanter. However, Portland still plays in the top-heavy Western Conference.
It seems that expectations are even higher for the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers this season, and the third-seeded Denver Nuggets are also expected to make a jump this season. The Golden State Warriors are relatively healthy, minus Klay Thompson, the Utah Jazz will be in the hunt, as are the Mavericks. So where exactly does that leave Lillard and the Trail Blazers?
They will need an MVP-caliber season from both Lillard and his counterpart McCollum, in addition to immediate gelling with the rest of the talent to make any serious waves in the West. Portland will be right in the hunt throughout the campaign, but don’t expect this squad to de-throne James and Lakers.
Portland Trail Blazers 2020-21 Season Prediction: 44-28, fourth in the West
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