Alright, it’s here! Blazersland Mailbag #7, April 2019 edition where I answer your questions regarding the Portland Trail Blazers.
Who is your favorite matchup for the Blazers in the playoffs? Are there specific teams you want to see because of matchups, or teams you just think would be a fun watch? – TorturedBlazerFan
My favorite matchup for the Blazers in the playoffs is the Los Angeles Clippers. They don’t have any star players, meaning the Clippers wouldn’t get the calls other teams would. Portland would be the clear favorites. The Blazers took the season series 3-1. They won both in Portland and in Los Angeles. The game they lost included Tobias Harris before the trade deadline. Without him the Blazers trampled the Clippers 125-104 in their last meeting in LA.
While Danilo Gallinari, Montrezl Harrell, and Lou Williams might prove to be a handful, the Blazers could handle them, even without Nurkic. The Blazers are the deeper and better team. They have the best player in Damian Lillard. If you’re Portland, the Clippers are who you want in the first round.
A close second would be the Utah Jazz. The Jazz would be a tougher opponent with Rudy Gobert inside. Donovan Mitchell has struggled this season, and your hope if you draw the Jazz in the 1st rnd, is that continues. Still, the Jazz added Korver to a list of apt 3 point shooters. You don’t want to get into a war at the arc with them.
Too, they do a good job of trapping the Blazers in the half court. Lillard and CJ will be double teamed, so other players need to step up. Going inside to Kanter would be a good way to make the Jazz pay. The Blazers tied the season series 2-2 after starting 0-2 and those losses weren’t close games to say the least. Both teams won at home and away on the opponent’s court. It seems somewhat evenly matched.The Jazz would probably be the favorite though. Still, in a stacked west pulling the Jazz would not be the worst scenario. However, it would not be my favorite.
The Blazers could potentially beat the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, but they are not an ideal team to play. The Blazers tied the season series 2-2, but couldn’t win a game in San Antonio. The Spurs aren’t the team they used to be, but have DeRozan and Aldridge with a supporting cast. More worrisome, the Spurs have Gregg Popovich, currently the best coach in the NBA at the helm. He has a knack for getting deep in the playoffs. He alone makes an opening series with the Spurs nerve wracking.
The Blazers don’t want to face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. The Thunder have owned the Blazers this season, sweeping the series 4-0. Paul George has been phenomenal and Russell Westbrook provoking. While you can wave off the season series and say it all starts over in the playoffs, the Thunder will be tough as nails to beat.
All four games between them have been at the highest levels of intensity, especially the last one. While fun to watch, the outcomes have been taxing on the team and on fans. It would be a thrill ride of a series. But, without Nurkic all odds will be against the Blazers.
Portland absolutely doesn’t want to play the Houston Rockets. James Harden and co would be near impossible to beat. Houston would get a majority of the calls and is the clear favorite. While the Blazers own the season series 2-1, but don’t let that deceive you. Those wins came without Houston at full power, and either Harden or Paul not playing.
As long the Blazers keep HCA, they won’t have to face Houston in the first round. To answer your second question, of course I want it to be fun. But, I also want the Blazers to win, so it’s all about matchups and HCA. With a traffic pileup in the Western Conference playoff race, and the loss of Jusuf Nurkic, it is going to be tough to keep HCA. The Blazers will have to face 2nd place Denver twice this weekend. If Portland loses both it could be all she wrote for HCA, depending on how the Jazz finish the season. The Blazers need to win every game they can to end the season.
It will most likely be Utah. But, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the Clippers!
How does losing Jusuf Nurkic affect the Blazers down the stretch? In the Playoffs? – JoeB
It hurts substantially, like a breaking a leg. Wait, sorry that was terrible of me. With Nurkic the Blazers had a far better chance of securing 3rd place for the 2nd season in a row, or perhaps getting 2nd even, and making a dent in the playoffs. Without him Portland will be lucky to keep hold of home court advantage. I can see them getting to the 2nd round based on the matchup, but beyond that is uncertain and improbable.
Jusuf Nurkic provided offense, defense, and rebounding. Now Portland has several backup centers that can do one or the other. They don’t have a complete center like Nurkic waiting in the wings. That said, Kanter has been impressive since Nurk’s injury. So who knows?
What percentage do you give the odds of us winning the championship this year? – Eric M
If you were to ask me that question a week and a half ago, the answer would have been more optimistic. After the trade deadline sportsbook had Portland at +6000 behind every western conference playoff team except the Los Angeles Clippers. I would have placed Portland above Utah and San Antonio then. To be fair though they had the Lakers ahead of the Blazers then too. So what do they know?
Currently, ESPN has the Blazers at 2.4% behind 7 other teams, and ahead of every western conference team besides Golden State, Denver, and Houston. I would agree with those odds though offer a slightly higher percentage, say 5%, If the Blazers can get the right combination of playoff matchups, sans Nurkic and CJ McCollum returns and plays the best ball of his career. If they can beat long odds somehow and win it all I will be glad to eat crow.
How will the Blazers offseason moves change with the injury of Jusuf Nurkic? – Paul H
Good question Paul. Urgency? The Blazers will likely try to apply for a disabled player exception and use it to resign Enes Kanter or look to move one or more of Leonard, Turner, and Harkless and their 1st for a center. Nothing much else has changed. The Blazers still don’t have much cap space to use and won’t be able to bring everyone back without going deep into tax territory or somehow trading players to make space. They have Jake Layman’s bird rights and can wait to sign him. Curry, Hood, and Kanter will be due for pay days. The Blazers can’t afford to resign all of them unless they take peanuts, or Olshey pulls off some miraculous draft day trade to reduce salary. I don’t see that happening. Portland is going to have to make some tough decisions in the summer, one way or the other. Let’s enjoy it while we can.
With the team going 5-0 without CJ, has the team put any thought into using him to possibly solidify greater needs in other areas of the roster? – Jason O
No. When CJ returns his role will be the same. As much as it might be in the interest of Portland to look at different ways of using him, I doubt Stotts has thought much about it. CJ will be the same 2nd in command, shooting, isocentric player. Sorry, if you hoped otherwise.
Will the Blazers be able to finish the season with HCA? – Greg S
Yes! Despite the injuries to CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic the Blazers have won 8 of their last 10, including a six game winning streak. They are currently fighting for 3rd place, three games out of 5th. There is only 4 games left in the season, two against teams not going to the playoffs. The question is whether they will finish in 3rd or 4th. 2nd is possible, but very very improbable.
Do you think the Blazers should go for the best seed possible, try and match-up with a certain team, or make sure the players that are still healthy are fully rested for the playoffs? – Hoopsjock
They should go for the highest possible seed. Without Nurkic and CJ being an uncertainty, the Blazers find themselves at a real disadvantage. There are only five games left. The Blazers need to play to win, not only for home court advantage and a 1st round against a team like LAC or Utah, but for confidences sake. They need to feel like they can win going into the playoffs and have the home crowd behind them. It’s like a sputtering car. You don’t pull the battery when its almost home, you give it a push to keep it going.
I have heard the scenario about what if we get to the last game, and if we lose we get a better matchup. I don’t believe in playing that way. It shows weakness. Either your in it to win it, or your not.
By no means am I saying run the guys ragged. It looks like Damian is a little run down. Two of the games are against non playoff teams. If the Blazers have a big lead, rest the starters by all means. Stotts rested Dame and co in the second half of yesterday’s game versus Memphis. If gets to the last game or two and it’s set no matter what, rest the starters. Otherwise they need to play. They need to stay invested in winning.
How would you compare our current roster to the late eighties/early nineties team that went to finals twice? – Char C
The late eighties/early nineties teams that went to the finals was polished and deep as a well. Terry Porter, Clyde Drexler, Clifford Robinson, Jerome Kersey, Kevin Duckworth, Buck Williams, Drazen Petrovic, and Danny Young is a hard group of guys to emulate. Lillard is like a combination of Porter and Drexler. Harkless and Robinson are similar in the energy they bring and the way they play. Aminu could be a mix of Kersey and Duckworth While Nurkic could be a more offensively inclined Williams. Some of those comparisons are pushing it, but hey.
I can see bits and pieces, fragments of those nineties players who helped the Blazers to the finals. But, the current blazers aren’t a complete picture. They are missing a guy or two (even with Nurkic and CJ). They are developing. They aren’t quite polished. But, it feels like there is a possibility that they can eventually get to that level. It’s up to the front office to keep the core together and add the necessary role players, allow for cohesion and growth. There was something quite special about those teams, and there is something special about this one.
Have the Blazers ever faced adversity like they are are now and been successful? – Lee Ann H
I guess it depends on what you mean by success. The Blazers have lost star players before to injury and ended the season with a winning record, as well as made the playoffs. Bill Walton suffered several broken bones his first two seasons with the Blazers, before returning to help them to a championship in 1977.
Despite Losing Sam Bowie to broken legs over the course of three seasons, the Blazers made the playoffs all three years, two with winning records. That’s turning Lemons into lemonade in my book.
The Blazers saw a roster overhaul when Aldridge/Matthews/Batum/Lopez were all gone after the 2014-15 season. The Blazers despite rebuilding have had winning records and made the playoffs the last four seasons. Last season the Blazers were NW Division champions, despite their youth.
The Blazers are used to adversity. They have been dogged by injury and circumstance. They haven’t let it keep them down. They always fight back. And, yes they succeed in many ways. I don’t know that they have ever lost two stars during a season, but the Blazers are showing they will treat this circumstance no different. They will battle on. It’s in their DNA to do so. That’s what being a Trail Blazer is all about.
Even if it gets a better matchup in the playoffs to lose i say we beat the hell out of the Lakers No Matter What. What say you? – kjironman1
You beat the Lakers come hell or high water. You always choose beating the Lakers.
That is the seventh edition of Blazersland Mailbag. If you want to see your questions answered in the next edition, submit them via the mailbag form at Blazersland.com/submit-questions/ -OR- by emailing them directly to firstname.lastname@example.org