May 2, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) reacts after hitting the game winning shot against the Houston Rockets during the fourth quarter in game six of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers: The Burden Of Expectations

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Last season the Portland Trail Blazers caught the league by storm with a 31-9 start over the first 40 games of the season before finishing up 23-19 over the final 42 games. Their season was encapsulated by a Damian Lillard dagger to the heart of the Houston Rockets, preserving a Blazers’ playoff series victory for the first time since the 2000 playoffs.

How will they fare this season, with all new expectations on their shoulders?

Earlier this week on Tuesday, ESPN released their Western Conference predictions and they have Portland finishing fourth out West with a 51-31 record. The only teams they have ahead of them on ESPN’s predictions are the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers.

However, the difference in wins from spots four to eight out West is only two games in the win column with the Rockets eighth at 49-33. Basically, the Western Conference is going to be silly and spots four through eight (or even nine) are up for grabs.

Again, the expectations are pretty high for this team and simply making the playoffs is definitely not going to cut it — Portland needs to keep progressing if they want to be in the upper echelon of the NBA. Last season, they got back into the conversation but after feasting on the weaker teams, they were rather mediocre against teams with a .500 or better record.

In 2013-14 the Blazers went 33-6 against teams with a less than .500 record. Conversely, they went 21-22 against teams with a .500 or better record, causing the pundits to come out in full force.

The NBA released the 2014-15 schedule earlier this week. Based on last season’s records the Blazers will have 44 games against teams .500 or better and 38 games versus teams that were less than .500 last season.

Some of those could clearly change (Cavaliers, Hawks, Heat, etc.) but it stayed pretty consistent as far as the pure number of games they will play against top competition. To be fair, there were only seven teams in the Association last season that had a .500 or better record against other teams with a record of .500 or better (read it slowly haha).

If you are one of the Blazer fans up in arms about ESPN’s prediction of three fewer wins consider this information. Last season the Blazers became the only team in NBA history to have four players start all 82 games and while LaMarcus Aldridge missed 13 games, he was really the only key player to miss any time whatsoever.

Injuries are an unfortunate part of the game and while the guys in the starting lineup have been very durable, you can never predict when lightening will strike and a star player goes down (still feel bad for PG).

Luckily, the Blazers’ front office went out and signed two veteran guys in Chris Kaman and Steve Blake to help get the starters some rest throughout the season — whether or not coach Terry Stotts actually utilizes the bench this season is something that remains to be seen however. The bench guys showed flashes last season and you have to believe that Thomas Robinson, Will Barton and C.J. McCollum will all see increased roles this season to help round out the contributors on this team.

All of the predictions I have seen have the Blazers ranging from 50-55 wins and have them finishing as high as fourth in the West and as low as eighth. I have the Blazers finishing fifth myself with 52 wins — 31-7 against teams less than .500 and 21-23 against teams .500 or better.

To keep things in perspective, the Blazers haven’t had a winning record against teams .500 or better since the 2001-02 season when they finished 26-20 against the top teams that year.

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Tags: Portland Trail Blazers Western Conference Predictions

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