It might be a cold January in Portland and I am not talking about the snow that might be coming next week. The San Antonio Spurs are the only team with a tougher schedule in January than the Blazers.
The 31 day, 15 game spell may well be the most arduous stretch of the 2019-20 season for Portland. The Blazers play the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks twice. They will also face off against the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Indiana Pacers. The Blazers are 3-5 against those teams. They are 9-15 against western conference foes.
How the Blazers manage in this span could dictate the result of their season. The Blazers are struggling, sitting just outside the playoff picture, tied 16-22 with the Memphis Grizzlies for the 9th seed. The Blazers will still have 33 remaining games after January, but Portland is already 6 games under .500 and fourteen and a half games behind the number 1 seed Lakers.
In a tougher than ever west the Blazers are all but cut off from the top 4-5 seeds unless some top teams suddenly collapse. The Blazers still have a chance at 6-8, but it will not be easy. 6 teams(9th-15th seeds) sit with Portland just separated by a few games outside the 8th seed.
The Blazers obliterated by injuries and inhibited by youth and spot players who have been forced to play big minutes, seem to be contenders for a lottery pick more than they are for a trophy. Well maybe one for participation.
Portland has already lost games to many bottom feeders. They were dismantled early in the season by the G league Warriors(9-29, 15th). The lost to the Nets(16-20) despite a franchise leading 60 points from Lillard. They were trounced by the Kevin Loveless Cavaliers(10-27, 14th). They were outgunned twice by the Anthony Davis abandoned Pelicans(12-25, 14th). Burned by the Suns(14-23, 13th). Decimated by the Knicks(10-27, 13th) 117-93, the Blazers worse loss and lowest points scored of the season.
There doesn’t seem to be an easy give me win for the Blazers this season. They have already played 2 games in January. The got clobbered by the Miami Heat 122-111 behind excellent shooting performances from the Heats rookies. (The Heat are the best home team in the NBA at 17-1 though, so there is that).
The Blazers somehow fell into a 101-99 win over the defending champion Toronto Raptors the other night. It felt at times the Blazers were trying to give it away. They were saved by several logo Lillard threes down the stretch as well as a season-high 28 point game from Carmelo Anthony.
Can Lillard, CJ, and Melo all average 20+ point games? That may be the Blazers only chance. It was essential the Blazers have a good start to the season with an early mostly accommodating schedule. But, injuries and acquainting new players to the system sullied that.
Jusuf Nurkic will likely be back in a month. Too, the Blazers will probably use the upcoming trade deadline to bolster the roster. Until then, the Blazers need to ride out a turbulent January. The win against the Raptors, though absent minded, was a start in the right direction.