#6 The Portland Trail Blazers

Well, since I started the last one with a clip, I’m gonna do it again. Yup, that’s the one right there. My single favorite play of this year’s postseason, and a youtube clip I must’ve watched 30 times over the basketball-dead summer. Take care to notice the deadpan “fuck wit me” stare right after hitting the biggest shot of the Blazers season, and definitely of his young career. Its Lillard’s teammates who pull him to the ground with whoops and celebrating, while the rest of us are there to say, “Wow, that kid is made of ice.”

Damian Lillard came into the league two seasons ago, was my secret sleeper pick in fantasy after I watched a video of his work out/ethic, and won ROY honors in a landslide victory. The Blazers were even better this season and another year of working in the pick-and-roll with another top-20 player in Lamarcus Aldridge, made this pair one of the League’s best 1-2 punch combinations. A lot of that success came from strengthening (somewhat) one of the NBA’s worst scoring benches and adding the interior presence and rebounding of the goofier Lopez brother, but they also took great advantage of a easy schedule to start the season, looking like one of the three best teams in the West before eventually falling back down to Earth and finishing as the 5th seed.

The clip above came from their first round victory over the Rockets before the team got swept, and really just manhandled, by the Spurs. The loss brings up a lot of interesting questions about the team and how good they can really hope to be after staying relatively quiet during the offseason, signing Steve Blake to fill in for Mo Williams and acquiring Chris Kaman. Neither of these players moves the needle much, meaning any improvement will have to come internally. The Blazers had one of the best starting 5s in basketball last year- a group that rivaled the Pacers in both how many minutes they spent together, and in also how the team fell apart when too many of them sat down.

And the defense. This team cannot. Will not. And maybe does not want to play defense. When you can out-gun teams with 107 ppg, good for 4th place in the league last year, you’re going to get a lot of wins in the regular season, as well as exciting high scoring games. But that doesn’t tend to work so much in the playoffs, and looks even worse when your bench can’t even begin to approach that number and starts hemorrhaging close leads. I think its safe to say that the Blazers will be in the postseason once again, but I would be surprised if they were able to snag that 5th seed again.

X-Factor= Damian Lillard. When speaking about internal improvement, this is what I meant. It is only Lillard’s third season after all, and this guy got invited to do 5 (!!!) of the different activities over the All-Star break, meaning I have no idea how high the ceiling is here. I’ve always imagined him as a mirror for Kyrie Irving in that both possess blinding speed, shooting, and ball-handling while functioning as relatively small, and defensively poor 1-guards. But its possible Lillard could end up being much better. Let’s watch and see.

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