For much of the Damian Lillard era, the Portland Trail Blazers have essentially been playoff guarantees. This season, however, is different. Portland kept Lillard but hit the reset button. They traded a boatload of players including the likes of CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, and Robert Covington. Although Lillard remains on the roster, he’s out for the rest of the season. Starting center Jusuf Nurkic is also out for the foreseeable future. Although giving in on the season, at least on paper, the play-in tournament remains a possibility for the Trail Blazers.
Portland Trail Blazers – Contenders or Pretenders?
Portland sits at 11th place in the Western Conference standings. This keeps them very much alive in the hunt for the play-in tournament.
A look back at the team’s schedule shows a long string of losses. In the midst of those losses, however, was a four-game win streak. With injuries and trades, Portland isn’t putting out the best possible product on the court. Plenty of players are getting great opportunities, but many of them remain in the stages of development. Players don’t play to lose, so don’t be surprised to see what seems like the lowly TrailBlazers pull off a couple of surprise wins here and there for the remainder of the season.
It remains difficult to see clear strengths on the current Portland team. The roster has faced a ton of turnover in the past couple of months.
In a recent win versus the Washington Wizards, Josh Hart dropped 44 points. Hart’s always been a reliable player, but the current Portland roster gives him a larger role. The former Pelican will be using the extra minutes to showcase his talents.
Anfernee Simons is injured at the moment but has been a revelation this season. To date, he’s averaging about 17 points and four assists per game. The 22-year-old simply needed more minutes to prove his worth and he’s done so in a major way. His last seven games have been terrific as well. In those games, he’s averaging about 26 points and seven assists per game, while shooting over 46 percent from deep.
The team’s weaknesses are easy to spot, especially when looking at their last 10 games.
First comes offense. In their last 10 games, Portland ranks last in points scored. Their total field goal percentage ranks last in the league as well during that span, and their three-point percentage ranks 27th. During that span, they also rank third to last in turnovers per game, which is a direct product of the youth they’re using.
In short, Portland’s product on the court is currently a mess.
The Portland Trail Blazers X-Factor
Simons should be returning shortly to the court. With Lillard out, Simons is Portland’s most talented player and therefore the de-facto x-factor.
If his teammates are hitting shots, Simons has enough talent to lead Portland to a few wins here and there. He’ll also be playing with a chip on his shoulder knowing he’s due for a contract extension this offseason. A few flamethrower games from Simons to wrap up the season are to be expected.
The Final Verdict for the Portland Trail Blazers
There’s no going around the fact that the Portland Trail Blazers are playoff pretenders. Although they remain in reach from the play-in tournament, that’s likely not the front office’s goal. They’re content with developing younger players while securing a lottery pick.
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