Can the Portland Trail Blazers still make the claim that they play in the NBA’s toughest division in the midst of their disappointing season?
For the last two years, the Northwest Division has reigned supreme over the NBA. The Portland Trail Blazers have made for some highly entertaining television as they battled their greatest rivals on basketball’s biggest stage. Now as we roll into a new year — and a new decade — that leaves us wondering: is the Northwest still sitting atop the NBA’s own iron throne, or is a new king set to be crowned?
During that two year span, the Northwest Division has combined for an impressive record of 480-340, holding a 58.5 winning percentage. The Northwest has also sent a whopping eight teams to the playoffs, accounting for half of all Western Conference playoff teams over the last two postseasons. If you go back even further, the Northwest had the second-best divisional record in 2016-17, coming in just behind the Southwest with that 61-win Spurs team.
As it now stands, the Northwest division holds a collective 112-92 record, yet again the best in the league. If the playoffs started today, three teams would advance to the playoffs — the Nuggets (2), Jazz (4), and Thunder (7).
Denver and Utah were already considered to be contenders entering the year and have garnered some serious momentum. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City has been one of the most surprising stories of the season, overcoming the loss of Russell Westbrook and Paul George to bounce right back into the playoff picture.
But don’t be mistaken, this division isn’t top-heavy in the slightest. The Trail Blazers are still reigning Western Conference Finalists, and would likely be performing so much better had they not lost three starting-caliber players to injury. Carmelo Anthony has been a revelation for Portland this year, and the return of Jusuf Nurkic will only further bolster this squad in February.
At 18-24, they are still just 1.5 games behind the currently eighth-seeded Grizzlies and are just one winning streak away from rejoining the others in yet another postseason dance. Watch for this team to make some moves near February’s trade deadline.
Speaking of making trade deadline moves, the Minnesota Timberwolves appear to be all-in on the chase for D’Angelo Russell. If they could successfully spin together a move for the guard, the Timberwolves would boast a core of two legitimate All-Stars and would become far stronger than any other last-place (in their respective division) team in the league.
So to answer the question that prompted this discussion: yes, the Northwest Division still appears to have a vice grip on the title of best division. A shaky start from Portland and Utah could not deter this band of talented teams from rising to the top. In fact, I would not at all be surprised if the Northwest sent four teams to the playoffs for the third consecutive year.