Recently, Zach Lowe of Grantland released his Western Conference Power Rankings. There are many Power Rankings out there, and I tend to ignore them for the most part since they seem rather subjective and prone to changing every week. Lowe is one of the national writers I pay close attention to and respect the most, though, so when he talks about the Blazers, it is worthwhile to listen.
Out of the Western Conference teams, he ranked the Blazers fourth, trailing the Spurs, the Thunder and the Clippers. However, he had the Blazers in the same tier as the Rockets and the Clippers, while the Spurs and Thunder were on an upper echelon tier of their own.
This is why I respect Zach Lowe so much – this is probably the most fair and accurate assessment of the Blazers I have seen thus far. Despite results up to this point, I don’t see the Blazers being able to fend off the Spurs and the Thunder for the whole season. The Spurs’ well-oiled machine of an offense makes it hard for them to falter, and after watching the Thunder extensively a few days ago, their excellent defense will likely give them the advantage over the Blazers for a full season.
I am resigned to slotting those two in at the top. After that, I again agree with Lowe in the sense that there is no clear cut further ranking. I was at the Clippers game last night and, after seeing them in person, the number three spot might belong to them. Yes, the Blazers triumphed, but when that team gets JJ Reddick back, they will be scary.
The Rockets are another interesting cast. Before the season, I thought they had a legitimate shot to come out of the West. As the reality of the season has set in, though, injuries have mounted, and while he is a great guy, I have still found a lot to be desired from Head Coach Kevin McHale’s coaching. At a minimum, they have the talent to be elite, although it may not be maximized.
This brings us to our beloved Blazers. Where do they fit into this mess? Lowe’s primary point was that the Blazers’ defense will hold them back, and he is spot on. In the past I’ve looked at previous teams who have had deep playoff runs, and the bottom line is essentially that deep playoff runs don’t happen without good defense. This will be what ultimately decides how far the Blazers go.
There has also been a lot of noise made about the Blazers’ lack of scoring in the paint, overreliance on jumpers / three-pointers, and how their offense is not sustainable. I’m not buying that. Sure, it might slip a little bit, but their currently ranked number one offense will remain potent at worst and deadly at best. I personally believe this is in large part due to the sheer number of three-point shooters the Blazers have at their disposal. Threes can really boost a team’s offense.
If you were keeping track, Lowe had three teams ahead of the Blazers, and I myself think it’s reasonable that the Blazers can slip into the third or fourth seed. I note this because that would mean the Blazers have home-court advantage to start the playoffs. As this season has more than established, the Blazers can beat anyone at home, making home-court advantage an invaluable commodity. Without trying to look too far ahead, this could make a potential leap to the second round that much more doable.
To rein expectations back to reality, however, I think the collective goal for the team still is and has always been simply to make the playoffs. If the Blazers continue their current trajectory, this will be no problem. There are no guarantees in a season as long as the NBA’s, though, so keeping eyes only on the metaphorical prize is of the utmost importance. If the team wants to make the next jump to the second round, snagging a top-four seed and home-court advantage in the first round will be crucial.