Northwest Division Preview: Portland Trail Blazers


The Portland Trail Blazers

2013-14 Record: 54-28, 2nd in Northwest

The Blazers surprised the basketball world last season, increasing their win total by 21 games from the year before. They made the second round of the Western Conference playoffs before falling to last year’s champs, the San Antonio Spurs in five games. In a nutshell, the Blazers were good.

Let’s look at what they have going forward.

The Roster

It’s all about the starting lineup, or at least it has been up until this point. Each of the starters logged heavy minutes in 2013-14, and when they were on the floor together Damian Lillard, Wes Matthews, Nic Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Robin Lopez outscored their opponents by 8.5 points per 100 possessions, good for fourth in the league.

While Lilliard and Aldridge are the cornerstones and remain essential to Blazers’ sustained success, the team’s ceiling going forward will be determined by the help they get from their role players. Portland lost Mo Williams to our Timberwolves, but they brought in guard Steve Blake and center Chris Kaman to bring stability to a bench unit that to has been unimpressive at best.

But for the second unit to rise to respectability, they’ll need added help from former lottery picks C.J. McCollum and Thomas Robinson.  Portland hopes that McCollum’s scoring and Robinson’s tenacious energy will give a much needed shot in the arm to the second unit, and  provide stability to a rotation that has been too heavily reliant on the starting five.

One Dude To Watch Out For

Because it’s difficult to ask much more from the Blazers’ starters (Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge more specifically), I’m looking to the bench for an impact player that could potentially have a huge impact next season. While players like Dorell Wright, Chris Kaman, and Steve Blake could be that guy, I’m looking at second-year combo guard C.J. McCollum to step up and be the sixth man for this Portland squad.

Last season McCollum didn’t even play until January, sitting with a foot injury for the first six weeks. After returning from injury, he only played in 38 contests, averaging barely five points in 12 minutes per game. Not too impressive.

But there are sign of hope. McCollum dominated the Las Vegas Summer League this past July, averaging more than 20 points on 48% shooting. His advanced offensive skill set was on full display here in this game against the Hawks:

The Basketball Horoscope

Psychic Madam Fortuna is at it again. She left me a lengthy voice mail last night while I was watching Dunks after Dark, and all she wanted to chat about was the Portland Trail Blazers.

I couldn’t get a word in while she told me that Damian Lilliard could expect good financial news before Mercury turns retrograde next week. She rambled on, saying that Victor Claver’s spiritual and professional life would greatly benefit from a journey overseas. Like always, it’s worth mentioning that Madam Fortuna doesn’t know basketball from BASEketball.

The Real Outlook

I’m skeptical. I have no doubt that Portland will be solid this season, but I’m just not sure they’ll be able to match their output from last year and produce 54 wins. They went 24-5 to start the season, and then finished it off 30-23.

My gut is telling me they’re closer to the team that faltered down the stretch than the one that got off to the hot start. Yes, they beat Houston in the playoffs, but they won’t even sniff the playoffs this season unless they can find a way to win more consistently from November all the way through April.

Cody’s Questions

Honestly, I really despise the Trail Blazers, and I hope they crash and burn. It’s not like the Wolves have some great rivalry with them. They’re not the Green Bay Packers, they’re just the friendly old Portland Trail Blazers, so I’m struggling in finding the source of this anger towards peace loving Portland.

So I guess that’s my question: Why do I hate the Trail Blazers so much? Is it because they’ve been a consistently better small market franchise in the Northwest Division than the Wolves? Maybe.

Is it because their owner (Paul Allen) seems a lot cooler than our owner (Glen Taylor) and that makes me jealous? Possibly.

Is it the weather? You know what? Yeah, it’s the weather. I looked it up: the average temperature in Portland during February is 50 degrees. Minneapolis in February: not 50 degrees. Stupid Portlandia…

2014-15 Prediction: 46-36, 2nd in Northwest