By: Field Level Media
Portland Trail Blazers NBA Bubble Restart Preview
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (29-37), ninth place, Western Conference
Where are they now: The Trail Blazers are 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and just percentage points ahead of the 10th-place New Orleans Pelicans. The No. 9 team would earn a play-in opportunity for the playoffs if it finishes within four games of the No. 8 spot.
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Portland Trail Blazers First Half Highlights
Damian Lillard played like an MVP for stretches of the season, allowing Portland to keep pace just behind the playoff contenders despite injuries to big men Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic. In the six games Lillard was out with a groin injury just before the All-Star Game, Portland was just 2-4.
Just before he was sidelined, Lillard had a mind-boggling six-game stretch where he scored 48.8 points per game with 10.2 assists and 7.2 rebounds. Carmelo Anthony made for an intriguing addition in November, scoring a serviceable 15.3 points per game with 6.3 rebounds.
“Everybody is going to be rusty,” Lillard told reporters. “We can’t feel it out, we can’t come out there and think we just have time because any other time we have this type of break and come back, it’s like training camp, preseason, beginning of a long season. This is basically an eight-game season and we’re starting off behind. We got to come there and hit the ground running, not just physically trying to force that, but we’ve got to have it in our minds like, we don’t have time to ease our way in.”
Portland Trail Blazers NBA bubble Roster Rundown
Lillard is the key and the recent stoppage of play might have helped him to return to form. It at least helped him heal from the last of his groin injury. He played in just four games before the stoppage of play, scoring 20.8 points per contest, well below his 28.8 season average. Portland went just 2-2 in those games. The soonest Lillard knocks off the rust the better.
Nurkic has not played all season because of a broken left leg, but is back now as the Trail Blazers look more like the team that advanced all the way to last year’s Western Conference finals. Collins played in just three games before a shoulder injury and the starting forward figures to contribute right away.
“We’re going to be a different looking team,” head coach Terry Stotts said, noting that there will be more of a physical nature when the Trail Blazers return to the court. “It’s not dirty or anything but it’s a lot of big bodies.”
Veteran Trevor Ariza opted out of the restart, while Rodney Hood is out after Achilles surgery.
Portland Trail Blazers NBA bubble Playoff Outlook
The 10th-place Pelicans, with all of their young star power, are the sexy pick for the final Western Conference playoff spot, but the Trail Blazers like their chances too. If Nurkic and Collins get back to form quickly, Portland will be tough to beat and there are signs that the duo is ready to produce.
“They both looked like the way we remembered them,” Stotts said. “I told Nurk … he’s the Nurk I remember playing at both ends of the floor. He (has) made some real good passes, good rebounds. And Zach (has been) full of energy. You couldn’t tell either one of them missed time. It was very encouraging.”
While smaller lineups are all the rage in the NBA (see the Houston Rockets), the expectation from the Trail Blazers is that the 6-foot-8 Anthony moves into more of a shooter’s role, while the 7-foot Nurkic, the 6-foot-11 Collins and the 7-foot Hassan Whiteside eat up space down low.
Portland Trail Blazers Best Bets in the Bubble: According to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Trail Blazers are +480 to earn the No. 8 seed, trailing both the Pelicans (+270) and the Grizzlies (-140).
Also at FanDuel, Lillard is +10000 to win the NBA MVP Award, even with the Lakers’ Anthony Davis, the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic and the Rockets’ Russell Westbrook. Just five payers have shorter MVP odds: Giannis Antetokounmpo (-2400), LeBron James (+1100), James Harden and Luka Doncic (+8000) and Kawhi Leonard (+9500).
–Field Level Media