The Portland Trail Blazers are headed back to the NBA playoffs after what seemed like a decade of season-ending injuries derailing season after season. After Sunday night’s win over the New Orleans Pelicans by a score of 100-94 the Blazers clinched their first playoff berth since 2011 when Brandon Roy was the superstar leading the way.
Now with not only one but two superstars in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, the Blazers are hoping to accomplish something they haven’t done since the 2000 season — reach the second round of the playoffs. This has certainly been an eye-opening season for the Blazer faithful, because instead of a season where they are fighting and scraping to make the playoffs out West; they are comfortably sitting in the fifth spot and have clinched a playoff berth with still four games to play.
Consider this, ESPN’s Marc Stein had the Portland Trail Blazers 16th in his preseason power rankings and right now they have the seventh best record in the league at 50-28 with four to play. That’s pretty remarkable, guys; not Phoenix Suns remarkable, but great nonetheless.
Having said all that, Aldridge knows that simply making the playoffs isn’t enough to consider this a successful season. When asked about the accomplishment Aldridge told Casey Holdahl of forwardcenter.net just that,
“We all said that we’re happy about it and we just moved on. This wasn’t our ultimate goal. It was one of our goals but we’re not satisfied. We’re not going to over-celebrate about it.”
This type of mentality is one that has the Portland community really excited about these upcoming playoffs — this roster isn’t feeling accomplished with their season yet, and that’s the attitude that brings the excitement.
Here’s the problem. With their troubles in February and March (15-15 record over those two months) they have now dropped to the fifth spot out West, which means if they go to a decisive Game 7 it will be on the road. The Blazers have managed well enough on the road with a 22-18 record, however their opponent the Houston Rockets (presumably) has a home record of 31-8 — which could be 33-8 after two home games remaining on their schedule.
Could the Blazers catch the Rockets and snag that fourth seed away? They could, but I just don’t see it happening with the way the schedule is laid out. The Rockets are 51-25 and own the tiebreaker with the Blazers after going 3-1 against them this season. So, the Rockets would have to go 2-4 in their last six games and they play the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans (twice) and the San Antonio Spurs. I could peg them going maybe 3-3 if they rest some guys, but not 2-4.
To go along with that theory, the Blazers would have to go 4-0 to put any pressure on the Rockets as well. To make matters worse, the Blazers have a more difficult four-game stretch to wrap up their season facing the Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers. Those first two should be easy wins but the Warriors and Clippers will certainly not be.
What I am getting at here is that Blazer fans should be ready for a tough, tough first round matchup against the Houston Rockets; and they should not expect to have home court advantage. That ship has sailed and if they aren’t able to rally past Houston, the Blazers might look back and realize that two-month stretch in February and March doomed their season.