The Portland Trail Blazers are characterized by lots of people around the NBA as one of the most pleasant surprises in the 2013-2014 season. And it’s true that earlier in the season, the Blazers rose to levels when almost nobody around the league expected. Really, Portland managed to stay at the top seed in the Western Conference for quite some time. However, at the moment, the Blazers rank fifth in the West and they will play the next few games without their superstar power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. With the Golden State Warriors standing just 1.5 games behind, the Blazers’ fifth spot is currently in jeopardy.
The big question for Portland at the moment is how far they can go. Can they really win it all in the West? Or will they get eliminated early in the postseason? And how will LaMarcus Aldridge’s injury affect the team’s chances?
First of all, the All-Star forward suffered a lower back contusion, which is not expected to keep him sidelined for more than just a few more games. However, we have to keep in mind that back injuries could be tricky ones and Aldridge has shown that he is injury-prone during this 7-year career in the NBA. For those who are wondering how far the Blazers can go without Aldridge, the question seems to be obvious.
Portland has gone 2-2 since the moment Aldridge got hurt, during a game against the San Antonio Spurs. The Blazers had trouble beating the last-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in their last game, topping them in overtime.
During the postseason, when the intensity level and the competition is at much higher levels, the Blazers will have an even tougher time finding ways to win. One alerting fact is that the team will be playing against a powerhouse in the first round, which could be either the Houston Rockets or the Los Angeles Clippers, amongst other really strong teams. Especially if Aldridge is not at his 100 percent by then, perhaps due to a setback in his rehabilitation process or because he may re-injury his back, the Blazers stand very little chances to proceed to the second round of the playoffs.
It’s notable that during the first three months of the season, Portland was performing significantly better than they are currently doing. For the stretch from the start of the season till the end of January, the Blazers averaged 43 percent shooting from mid-range while since February, this percentage has dropped to 38. In general, their field goal percentage declined from 45.3 percent to 44.1.
As a result, their offense went from first in the league during the first three months of the season, when the Blazers averaged 109.5 points per contest, to ninth in the league, with 106.5 points. The rest of their stats followed a similar trend and that has translated in them losing one seed after another in the Western Conference standings.
It’s obvious that at the moment, the Blazers seem to be more like a firework rather than a true title contender this season. With or without LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland simply doesn’t seem to have enough to win it all. Whilst the team could have a great future, if it holds its current core and also if it manages to make a few additions, we might see the Blazers getting eliminated from the playoffs in the first round.
Fourth quarter production is another big issue of this Blazers team. During the playoffs, when the game is on the line and when every small detail could make the difference between a victory and a loss, fourth quarter performance is an essential ingredient for any team’s success. During the past month, the Blazers have lost all but one of the five games that were decided by single digits and that one that they won, was last night’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks in overtime.
It’s obvious that Blazers fans as well as the people around the team should be worried. Those who hoped that the Blazers can really surprise the entire NBA world this season and make it to the top, have to re-thing about their ambitions. For sure, Damian Lillard is impressive. He is one of the best point guards currently in the league, no doubt about that. He has already established himself as a superstar in the league and he might get even better in the near future. And LaMarcus Aldridge is also impressive, revamped I could say. However, other than that, the Blazers seem to need some more time together. They need to examine all the flaws of their team and try to improve them next season. As almost any successful team in the NBA, they will need to get through fire and pain in order to become successful.
The positive aspect of this season for the Blazers, even if they exit the playoffs early, is that they are have already gained and they will continue to gain valuable experience for the years to come. Damian Lillard might be a great player but he needs to gain some experience, some miles in his body. Nicolas Batum is also relatively young, just 25 years old. In fact out of the entire Portland Trail Blazers team, we could say that only Aldridge and Mo Williams have enough veteran experience to carry the team during a playoff series. On top of that, this team, with its current core, has never actually played in the playoffs.
The Blazers are certainly a very capable team. However, they are not as good as we thought during the start of the season. They might still make their impact felt during the postseason. But it will be very difficult for them to go further than the first or the second round, especially if LaMarcus Aldridge is not at his 100 percent.