Mar 7, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) drives to the basket between Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) and center Samuel Dalembert (1) during the second half at the American Airlines Center. Aldridge leads his team with 30 points. The Mavericks defeated the Trail Blazers 103-98. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

What it would take for Portland to Miss the Playoffs

 

As the season winds down and the Trail Blazers continue to falter, it’s time for a serious talk about the NBA playoffs. It is highly improbable that Portland misses out. This has nothing to do with heart, passion, or unity—I offer you numbers today. We’re going to take an in-depth look at what would have to happen for the Trail Blazers to drop from the top-8. Hopefully it will assuage some concerns without ballooning a sense of security. Portland isn’t safe, but they’re safer than you might think.

Right now, the Trail Blazers rank fifth in the Western Conference, just ahead of the Warriors and just behind the Rockets. This is probably their ceiling. By the numbers, the eighth ranked Suns/Mavericks are closer to catching the Trail Blazers than the Trail Blazers are to catching the Rockets. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are on Portland’s heels; it just means that Portland isn’t exactly on Houston’s anymore. Homecourt advantage (granted to the top-4 teams) would be gravy, but should not be expected.

 

Current Playoff Position

1. (54-16) San Antonio Spurs
2. (52-18) Oklahoma City Thunder
3. (49-21) Los Angeles Clippers
4. (48-22) Houston Rockets
5. (45-26) Portland Trail Blazers
6. (44-27) Golden State Warriors
7. (42-28) Memphis Grizzlies
8. (42-29) Phoenix Suns

 

Still in the Running

9. (42-29) Dallas Mavericks
10. (34-35) Minnesota Timberwolves
11. (32-39) Denver Nuggets

 

Mathematically Eliminated

12. (30-40) New Orleans Pelicans
13. (25-45) Sacramento Kings
14. (23-46) Los Angeles Lakers
15. (23-48) Utah Jazz

 

Let’s go ahead and ignore the Timberwolves and Nuggets. Their presence among post-season possibilities is merely a formality at this juncture. Minnesota would have to win 9 of their next 13 to pass Dallas/Phoenix, while Dallas/Phoenix would have to lose just as many. That’s not going to happen. Denver is even worse off, so we’ll draw the line at 9. Free your mind of every team past #9 in the rankings. They don’t matter. At all. Period.

So in the most basic sense, Portland needs to outplay Dallas or Phoenix in order to keep a spot. Actually, they don’t even have to do that. They just have to not fall further than the others climb. The Mavericks have already won the season series with the Trail Blazers, so they are a little more threatening. A tie with them in the records would be devastating. So here’s the good news: Portland netting at least -3 games over their next 11 while Dallas nets at least +3 is highly improbable given the schedule and Aldridge’s impending return (likely this Thursday against the Atlanta hawks).

 

Remaining Trail Blazers games:

@ Magic (.268)
@ Hawks (.449)
@ Bulls (.563)
Vs. Grizzlies (.600)
@ Lakers (.333)
Vs. Suns (.592)
Vs. Pelicans (.429)
Vs. Kings (.357)
@ Jazz (.324)
Vs. Warriors (.620)
Vs. Clippers (.704)

 

The Trail Blazers have 5 games left against teams over .500, only one of which is on the road. The Mavericks have 7 games left against teams over .500, two of which are on the road. Not to mention that four of those games are against teams over .700. Where most of the Trail Blazers’ tougher games are against teams on the Warriors/Grizzlies tier, the Mavericks have to deal with the Thunder/Spurs/Clippers(x2). And they need to make up three games that Portland needs to drop in order for Portland to fall to 9 (while Golden State, Memphis, and Phoenix thrive as well)? I don’t see it.

 

Remaining Mavericks games:

Vs. Thunder (.743)
Vs. Clippers (.704)
Vs. Kings (.357)
Vs. Warriors (.620)
@ Clippers (.704)
@ Lakers (.333)
@ Kings (.357)
@ Jazz (.324)
Vs. Spurs (.771)
Vs. Suns (.592)
@ Grizzlies (.600)

 

Heck, after tonight the Mavericks will be four games behind if they lose to the Thunder and the Trail Blazers beat the Magic like they are supposed to. Yet, nothing happens exactly as it is supposed to in the NBA, so don’t get too comfortable. The clock is ticking for everyone, but it’s ticking much faster in Dallas than it is in Portland. The Trail Blazers would have to fall off an even steeper cliff than they have already, continue to slide after Aldridge returns, be the only team between 5th and 8th to do so, while the Mavericks topple the best teams in the NBA night after night in order to miss the playoffs. This time next week, we won’t even have to worry. Probably.

 

 

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