NBA Preview — The Blazers are Back

Don’t look now, but…

My opinions of the 2016–17 Portland Trail Blazers closely mirror those of many other people who spend a lot of time following the NBA. I thought their soft start was a mirage, and that they’d soon fight their way back into the middle of the Western Conference playoff picture. When that became essentially numerically impossible, I expected them to still wrest the eighth seed away from Denver as the season continued. But I gradually lost faith, faith that took an even larger blow after the Mason Plumlee trade.

But now, Portland is right back in the mix, punctuated by an impressive victory over the San Antonio Spurs last night. The Blazers are still two games out of the playoffs as of Thursday morning, but — most importantly—they’ve started to close the gap and finally look something like the team everyone assumed they’d be. Denver may still be ahead of them, but this is a legitimately tight race again.

Crucially, Denver has a harder schedule going forward than Portland does. This could be a critical turning point, as could the one remaining game left between these two teams. Portland leads the season series, and could clinch the tiebreaker with a victory. Lose that though, and Denver probably wins the last spot.

From Portland’s schedule

Of course, winning the eight seed means a ticket to a bludgeoning by Golden State, but there’s still value to making the playoffs. Even if selling more tickets is the deciding factor here, getting to the postseason would be a nice accomplishment for either of these teams. It would mean experience and recognition for Denver, or validation (to a degree) of Portland’s roster. Either way, it’s worth chasing, and the chase is suddenly interesting again.

Predictions:

0–2 last night, 3–3 for the week (w0w). March Madness begins tonight, but NBA TV has a nationally-televised contest for us:

Utah at Cleveland: Cleveland

I scoff at a lot of the games that get picked for these slots, but this is a genuinely nice choice by NBA TV. These two teams rarely play, they’re both good, and their contrasting styles of play should make for an interesting matchup. Cleveland doesn’t look unbeatable, at 4–6 over their last 10, and every game is important for a Utah team that’s fighting for playoff seeding. However, I still like the Cavs here. At home, they’re pretty hard to defeat.

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