The Portland Trail Blazers have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams this season. They’ll enter Orlando with a 29-37 record, which places them 3.5 games behind Memphis for the 8th seed. It’s not just about catching the Grizzlies, though, as they’re tied with the Kings and Pelicans as well. The Spurs stand a half-game behind the 3-way tie for the 9th seed.
It’s going to be a heated race for the 8th seed out west. Portland, Sacramento, and New Orleans are all talented groups within striking distance of the Grizzlies, who themselves are lead by Rookie of the Year favorite Ja Morant. San Antonio is within striking distance as well, but LaMarcus Aldridge being ruled out essentially eliminates them.
The Blazers have a steep hill in front of them, which starts with a lack of playing time shared between key players.
Ariza Not Joining Team in Orlando
Portland was dealt a blow to their chances shortly after the season plans were announced. Trevor Ariza made the understandable decision to not join the team in Orlando due to family circumstances. Ariza averaged 33.4 minutes per game for the Trail Blazers, ranking third on the team behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
He provided leadership, wing defense (Which they don’t have much of behind him), and 3-point shooting that will be greatly missed. 21-year-old Gary Trent Jr. will be asked to step up in his absence, but those are big shoes to fill. The Trail Blazers signed G-League MVP-runner up Jaylen Adams with the roster spot opened up by Ariza’s decision.
We recently named Jaylen Adams as our G League MVP due to his play with the G League-best Wisconsin Herd. In 33 games with the team, he put up 21.5 points, 5.7 assists, 5 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game on 49% from the field and 41% from 3 https://t.co/IFXEknkJWA
— Ridiculous Upside (@RidicUpside) June 30, 2020
There are two returning players they hope can help fill some of that void, though.
Nurkic and Collins Set to Return
Potentially softening the Ariza blow is the return to health of both Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins. Both are talented players, but neither can be asked to play minutes on the wing. From a talent perspective, these returns are great news. They come with more questions than answers, though.
Nurkic will be making his season debut after suffering a broken leg. Upon his return, he joins Hassan Whiteside as Portland’s Centers. Whiteside had a bounce-back season this year, his first with the Trail Blazers. He has provided them with everything they could ask for, and then some. How those minutes are distrusted will be very interesting. Whiteside excels on the defensive end, while Nurkic is the more talented offensive player.
It’s also possible we see them play alongside each other for stretches. In theory, that’s intriguing. In reality, it wouldn’t be easy for them to learn how to maximize on short notice.
Collins is another big that will be in the mix when the team gets back on the court. He played 86 minutes this season over three games before getting hurt. That means the two returning big men will be joining Whiteside in the frontcourt rotation, and combined have played just 86 minutes this season.
Further complicating the rotation is Carmelo Anthony‘s presence. He has spent his time in Portland as the starting power forward, but now may be moved to the three in some big lineups. Part of the reason he has worked so well at the four is the spacing the group has had, but moving him to the three will only take away from that spacing.
Stotts says “in all likelihood” Melo and Nurk will start. Hasn’t decided whether Collins will start at 4. Also hasn’t ruled out starting Nurk and Whiteside together. “Why not? It’ll give you guys something to write about.”
— Sean Highkin (@highkin) July 1, 2020
Reminder: They’ll have next to no time to figure this all out. They have to learn on the fly in must-win games.
No Home Games
No one truly knows how playing in near-empty gyms will impact games. Damian Lillard could do something spectacular each night, or the entire team might fail to find any real rhythm. It’s one of the many unknowns in the return to basketball.
Something we do know is that home-court advantage doesn’t exist anymore. Each game is essentially a road game for both teams. Of the 22 teams going to Orlando, only two have won fewer road games this season than Portland. They do play one of those two teams, taking on the 76ers in their 6th game.
The truth is, the Moda Center provides one of the best home-court advantages in the league. Portland likely adds a few wins per season thanks in large part to their great arena atmosphere. If that is the case, their road record is a much better indicator of how they should be expected to perform in empty arenas.
In the 8 seeding games, they don’t get that edge a single time. That is a much bigger loss for them than most teams.
Seeding Games Schedule
The Trailblazers schedule for the 8 seeding games is listed below:
Opponent – (Record vs opponent)
Memphis Grizzlies (0-1)
Boston Celtics (0-1)
Houston Rockets (2-1)
Denver Nuggets (0-3)
Los Angeles Clippers (0-2)
Philadelphia 76ers (0-1)
Dallas Mavericks (1-2)
Brooklyn Nets (0-1)
Here’s a scary statistic for Rip City: They’re 3-12 vs the eight teams they’ll face in Orlando. Yes, the Trail Blazers have a .200 win percentage against remaining opponents. Remember, they need to at the very least not lose any games on the Grizzlies by seasons end. If they can hang within four games, they’ll at least trigger a play in scenario.
Unfortunately for Portland, they get just one game against a significantly worse opponent. That comes in the 8th and final game when they play the Nets. By then, it might be too late.
Want to know more about the NBA’s plan to resume the season? Check out my ‘Five Things You Need to Know’.
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