Crucial factors in the Portland Trail Blazers’ success this season

Portland Trail Blazers Damian Lillard CJ McCollum (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Portland Trail Blazers Damian Lillard CJ McCollum (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

Now that the Portland Trail Blazers have been officially invited to participate in the rest of the season, the ninth seeded squad must find a way into the playoffs.

On July 31, the waiting ends. That’s right, the NBA is officially set to return in an unprecedented 22 team shortened season format, giving the Portland Trail Blazers a chance to earn a playoff spot through eight remaining regular season games.

Currently sitting 3.5 games behind 8th seeded Grizzlies, Portland will have to break out of a three way tie for ninth with New Orleans and Sacramento if they are to even be in contention for a postseason spot.

While much is still unknown about the remainder of the season, there are certain factors that may be crucial in Portland advancing to the postseason.

First, Portland must beat Memphis during regular season play. This matchup was scheduled to take place the day after the season was postponed due to COVID-19, likely making it the first game back for both teams. This could see the long awaited return of Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkić in a game the Portland Trail Blazers could use them most.

Memphis does not have significant depth in the big man department, however starting center Jonas Valanciunas and second year power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. have been huge reasons for the team’s success this season. With two more seven footers in the mix, Portland has a chance to wear them down for 48 minutes straight in what will be a near must win game.

A loss to Memphis to kickoff the eight game stretch would put Portland 4.5 games out of the eight spot, while simultaneously giving New Orleans and Sacramento a chance to push the Blazers down to eleventh in seeding. A win however, puts Portland only 2.5 games out of eight place, and in the driver seat either for the play in ninth seed or a surprise run into the eighth slot.

Beyond added depth in the paint, the return of Collins and Nurkić allows Coach Terry Stotts to run a consistent and healthy rotation for the first time this season. If all goes well, this will hopefully lead to higher productivity from the bench, something Portland will need if they are to make a run into the postseason.

While Portland’s starting lineup remains unknown, between Hassan Whiteside, Carmelo Anthony, Zach Collins, and Jusuf Nurkić, it seems likely two will start while two come off the bench. This gives the Portland Trail Blazers a huge boost, as all four have playoff minutes under their belt, providing the team with continuous on court experience despite the predominantly youthful second unit.

Throughout this 2019-20 season, Portland’s bench has ranked 29th in minutes played and dead last in points scored. This will absolutely need to change, especially come Play-In/Playoff games.

Damian Lillard is continuously cited as one of the most underrated and underappreciated players in the league. While this still remains the case to this day, one aspect of his game that has come to be known league wide is his leadership.

Since becoming the face of the franchise, Lillard has shown his ability to lead with a cold blooded on court mentality while still maintaining positivity in the locker room. In short, he is simply a player others seem to want to follow. Not that it is in question, but Lillard will need to be locked in as an unwavering captain from the minute the team reunites for the first time.

Of any of the teams fighting for a final playoff spot, none seem to have a chip on their shoulder bigger than Portland’s, and no one seems to be bearing that weight more than Lillard. In a career filled with doubters, naysayers, and critics attempting to diminish his ability, along with that of the only franchise he’s ever played for, it will be up to the Letter O to lead his team on the ultimate Cinderella run.

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While we wait and somewhat aimlessly attempt to predict the future, the Portland Trail Blazers prepare for arguably the most bizarre postseason run of their lives, after one of the most frustrating seasons in recent years. Through all the unknown and chaos, Blazer fans can still feel some security knowing they will have a healthy squad ready to fight for their playoff lives come July.