No. 3: The Western Conference potentially loses a perennial powerhouse
As anticipated with the loss of a perennial Most Valuable Player candidate, the Houston Rockets are running short on believers, as they attempt to add to the league-leading eight consecutive Playoff trips.
Most will remember how high the league’s experts and data were on this team; ESPN’s model gave them an 82 percent chance of making the Playoffs, and had them pegged for the No. 3 spot in the West. Now, that support has all but diminished. FiveThirtyEight, for instance, gives them an 18 percent chance of making the postseason.
Any team with John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Christian Wood, Victor Oladipo, and P.J. Tucker, among others, is going to be able to compete on any given night. But taking James Harden away from this group makes them tons less intimidating.
This not only widens the opportunity for Portland to take on the Western Conference’s longest run of continued Playoff appearances, but it potentially takes a mighty challenger out of their way in the standings.
Over the last few seasons, we’ve witnessed the Blazers slug their way through the West, often hanging onto the last two seeds in the conference.
With so many former Western Conference stars heading to the Eastern Conference, the balance of power should be shifting, even if slightly. As always, we can count on three things: death, taxes, and a tough Western Conference, but it’s more vulnerable than it has been in years.
Pair that with the Portland Trail Blazers seeking to open the year with a renewed sense of urgency, and the Harden trade looks to be filled with hidden positives. In the Lillard era, this has been a team Portland looked up to the Houston Rockets in the standings like an older brother. Times could certainly be changing in 2021.