Examining the Portland Trail Blazers playoff outlook

Portland Trail Blazers Damian Lillard (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Portland Trail Blazers Damian Lillard (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /

We are down to 19 games remaining in this pandemic shortened season. The playoffs are in sight, and the contenders have separated themselves from the rest of the field for the most part. The Portland Trail Blazers are currently 31 – 22 and sitting 6th in the Western Conference two games behind the injury-riddled Los Angeles Lakers, and a game and a half up on the Luka Doncic led Dallas Mavericks. This all sounds pretty promising right? When digging deeper into the numbers, there is a real reason for concern in the City of Roses.

At this point, I think that all teams can be grouped into one of four different categories. How did I decide on these categories? By record for the most part.

1.     The Contenders – These are the teams that all have a legitimate chance of making the finals. There are different levels of contenders, but these teams with a few breaks can make the finals.

(Defense equates to Points Allowed Per Game
Offense equates to Points Scored Per Game stats according to Basketball Reference )

Lakers (33 – 20)
–       Defending champs.
–       The entire playoffs may be determined based on Anthony Davis and LeBron James’ health.
–       Best defense in the league.

Jazz (40 – 13)
–       Best record in the league.
–       Currently 24 – 2 at home, and the playoffs are going through Utah.
–       5th in defense.

Suns (37 – 15)
–       29 – 7 in their last 36.
–       Two legitimate late-game scorers (Chris Paul, Devin Booker).
–       2nd in defense.

Clippers (37 – 18)

–       Two players that can guard four positions and are three-level scorers (Paul George, Kawhi Leonard).

                                                       –       Best offense in league.


Nets (36 – 17)
–       Title Favorite.
–       3 elite isolation scorers.
–       3rd Ranked Offense.

76ers (36 – 17)
–       Joel Embiid is unstoppable this year – this team will go as far as he can pack them.

Bucks (33 – 20)
–       2x MVP Giannis is playing as well as ever.
-       2nd best offense in the league.

2.     The Wild Cards – These teams either have a top 10 player that can win games and potentially series by themselves or have proven playoff experience.

Nuggets (34 – 20)
–       Even without Murray, they will be a tough out.
–       Presumptive MVP (Jokic).

Heat (28 – 25)
–       Made the finals last season.

Celtics (28 – 26)
–       Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are blossoming superstars.
–       Made 3 of the last 4 conference finals.

Trail Blazers (31 – 22)
–       Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are exceptional isolation scorers.
–       Made the Conference Finals two seasons ago.

Mavericks (29 – 23)
–       Luka Doncic took the Clippers to 6 games by himself last season.

Warriors (25 – 28)
–       They don’t have a chance, but I am putting them here out of respect for Steph Curry and the season that he is having.

3.     The Rest of the Playoff Teams – These teams have no possible path to the finals but will likely make at least the play-in tournament and could potentially win a couple of games in the playoffs.

West – Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs.
East – Hawks, Knicks, Hornets, Bulls, Pacers.

4.     The Lottery Teams – I will go ahead and say that there is no shame in trying to get in on the Cade Cunningham/Evan Mobley/Jalen Suggs lottery.

West – Kings, Thunder, Rockets, Timberwolves.
East – Raptors, Wizards, Cavaliers, Magic, Pistons.

Why did I go through all of this just to talk about the Blazers you ask? Great question, let me show you.

Here is Portland’s record against the different groups (I put the “Wild Card” group into the “Rest of the Playoff Teams” section for ease of viewing).

Portland Against “The Contenders”

14 Games Played – 7 Games Remaining

Record: 3 – 11  Points P/G: 109  Points Allowed P/G: 120         Differential: (– 11)

Breakdown vs West (1 – 8): Nuggets (0 – 1) Jazz (0 – 2) Lakers (1 – 1) Clippers (0 – 2) Suns (0 – 2)

Breakdown vs East (2 – 3): 76ers (2 – 0) Nets (0 – 1) Bucks (0 – 2)

Portland Against “All Other Potential Playoff Teams”

19 Games Played – 9 Games Remaining

Record: 12 – 7  Points P/G: 112.5  Points Allowed P/G: 115     Differential: (- 2.7)

Portland Against “The Lottery Teams”

20 Games Played – 2 Games Remaining

Record: 16 – 4  Points P/G: 124  Points Allowed P/G: 111       Differential: (+ 13.2)

These numbers are really scary for a variety of reasons, as I am sure you can tell.

There are exceptions to all of these numbers based on a variety of factors. C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic have missed a large part of the season, but every team has dealt with its own problems.

Here are the most important numbers as I see them.

–       16 of the remaining 18 games are against teams who are in a position to at least make the play-in tournament. This remaining schedule could very well mean that Portland could be looking at being in the play-in tournament again this season.

Portland is allowing 120 Points P/G to the contending teams they will face in the playoffs. Even more concerning is that they have been beaten by 15+ points in 7 of the 14 games.

–       Portland has a negative point differential against non-contending playoff teams. Damian Lillard’s late-game heroics and an easy schedule makes the record look better than the actual team is performing this season.

Look, I am an optimistic person.

I am well aware that injuries have made building any real chemistry difficult.

I don’t think it is too difficult to realize that Nurkic is the key to a better defense and a smoother offense.

I am encouraged by how easily Norman Powell has integrated and the different aspects he brings to the offense.

Ultimately I am a loyal fan who will fully believe that Portland will be able to beat any of these teams in the playoffs. Unfortunately, my imagination can be less reliable than facts.

Let me be clear I am not giving up on this team or this season.

These numbers can still be changed. The team is finally starting to get healthy and will have many chances to play “playoff” environment games with 7 remaining against contending teams.

At this point, I do not believe that this team can seriously contend for a title, but I hope that by the time the playoffs start, I have a different opinion.

Next. 3 ways Rondae Hollis-Jefferson can help the Portland Trail Blazers. dark