The Portland Trail Blazers surged into the All-Star break on a four-game winning streak and have a favorable post-break schedule after three tough tests
The Portland Trail Blazers have been among the NBA’s most enigmatic teams so far this season. A stretch of 16 losses in 20 games between Thanksgiving and January’s first week pushed the Blazers from low-grade contenderhood to the last lost edge of play-in hopefuls.
They were seemingly also headed for the mystical Land of Many Ping-Pong Balls after trading away a sizable collection of veteran talent for some promising youngsters, salary cap flexibility, and draft pick replenishment just ahead of the NBA trade deadline.
But the hastily reconfigured and suddenly younger and more versatile Blazer team ripped off four wins heading into the All-Star break, including victories on the road over defending champions Milwaukee and current Western Conference No. 3 seed Memphis.
The Blazers’ struggles in the season’s first 55 games came from a combination of injuries, COVID absences, and disinstered play from most of the frontcourt. They also had the toughest schedule in the NBA through the All-Star break.
That gauntlet continues for three games after the season resumes – the Blazers host championship contenders Golden State and Denver before heading to Phoenix to face the Suns on March 2.
But the Blazers’ schedule for the final 20 games of the season is the league’s second easiest. And if the news that comes out of Damian Lillard’s mid-March scheduled evaluation after abdominal surgery is favorable, he could rejoin the team for the season’s last dozen games or so.
Aside from offering an opportunity for him to mesh with Josh Hart, Justise Winslow, Elijah Hughes, and hopefully Keon Johnson, the soft schedule might give the Blazers enough chances to win to keep them in the playoff picture.
A play-in round win would be a huge boon to the development of youngsters Anfernee Simons, Trendon Watford, and Greg Brown. And the chance for Lillard and the Blazers’ core of holdovers to integrate their new teammates under the pressure of a playoff race and maybe one early round is far more valuable than the extra first-round pick Portland would end up with should both they and New Orleans end up in the lottery.