Portland Trail Blazers’ Playoff Heat Check: January Edition
Tuesday, January 05, 2016
The Blazers’ late run, while fun at times, proved futile in the 91-78 home loss. But it also showed that you never know if you’re going to see potential or inexperience on any given night—or any given moment.
Despite the often-frustrating unpredictability with this group, there’s a silver lining: Unpredictable offers far more immediate promise than predictably bad. Just ask the Phoenix Suns of the world, who entered the season a fringe playoff team and have now become one of the biggest dumpster fires in the Association.
Thirty-seven contests into the season, Portland finds itself just two games out of the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference.
Although the playoffs were a pipe dream for the Blazers entering the year, they’re still a part of the conversation with the calendars having flipped to 2016. However, like their youth showed against the Grizzlies, they’re also very much in the running for a (strong) lottery pick.
When looking at Portland’s current standing, a few things come to mind. For starters, the Blazers aren’t as bad as most expected they’d be. This young group spent a portion of the summer getting to know each other on a personal level and training with its star, so it’s not shocking that a few unexpected wins have come its way.
The other reason Portland finds itself where it stands is that the West as a whole has taken a step back. Teams such as the Suns, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans have all regressed, widening the gap between upper- and middle-echelon squads this season.
With 44 games remaining, Basketball-Reference gave Portland a 47.2 percent shot at making the playoffs, sandwiching it between the No. 7 projected Grizzlies (81.8 percent) and the No. 9 projected Rockets (38.9 percent). Even wilder is the fact that the site (after 7,500 simulations of the rest of the season) had the Trail Blazers making the playoffs with an average record of just 37-45.
But again, that’s more understandable when you consider that parity out west has diminished this season thanks to the rise and fall of certain franchises, meaning it’s no longer going to take 50 wins just to sneak in.
Portland’s postseason projection will likely shift in the direction of the lottery following the loss to Memphis, but Basketball-Reference shows us that this group has the ability to shock detractors if it can build upon the modest success it’s built so far. Having certain teams such as the Rockets fail to successfully find their grooves will play a big factor as well.
But the real question here for fans is whether or not you actually want the Blazers to finish as a playoff team this season. An eighth seed and inevitable elimination does nothing when it comes to improving a draft pick; however, it does hold value in terms of getting young prospects meaningful experience.
The debate on whether to tank or go for it all is one we’ll leave for another day, but it’s one that will reside at water coolers around Rip City until the year comes to a close. The Blazers could really go either way between now and April, as both routes have their appeal at this point in the process.
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How will the Ducks fair without Mariota?
The Ducks have been extremely fortunate to have had one of the greatest quarterbacks in college football leading their offense over the past few seasons. But with him now in the NFL there will undoubtedly be an adjustment period. Can the Ducks overcome losing the reigning Heisman trophy winner? Only time will tell.
Will the Beavers finally be able to step out of the Ducks’ shadow?
Over the past few seasons the Beavers have been commonly referred to as the Oregon Ducks’ “little brother.” It’s been close to 8 years since the Beavers last defeated Oregon in the Civil War, and it’s been even longer since they’ve had the type of success the Ducks have recently experienced. Although this year’s Civil War will be played in Eugene there’s still a chance that they could pull off an upset over the Ducks.
Will the Ducks’ receiving core live up to expectations?
This year’s receiving core is deep, fast and tall. There’s no doubt that the Duck’s receivers could give almost any team’s secondary headaches if they can put it all together on the field. If Devon Allen and Bralon Addison come back healthy, and Darren Carrington decides to stop smoking marijuana before big games, the sky’s the limit for the Ducks’ offense.
Who will take more snaps between Jeff Lockie and Vernon Adams?
One of Oregon’s most prized offseason acquisitions is Vernon Adams Jr. Although he hasn’t been around the team as much as Jeff Lockie has it’s still possible that he wins the starting quarterback position. Both quarterbacks have pros and cons when it comes to starting. The only difference is that Oregon’s coaching staff knows what Lockie’s pros and cons are while they have almost no idea what Adams’ are. We’ll have to trust Mark Helfrich when it comes to who starts on September 5th.
Photo via Vernon Adams Facebook page (image cropped)
Who will take the scoring load with Joseph Young now in the NBA?
Joseph Young was an offensive force last season for the Ducks’ basketball team. He not only led the team in scoring, he also won the Pac-12 Player of the Year award. He had a tendency to come up with big plays just when his team needed them the most. With him now in the NBA the team desperately needs someone to step up and take over where Young left off.
Will Russell Wilson and the Seahawks agree to a new contract before the start of the regular season?
One of the Seahawks’ biggest question marks is whether or not they will be able to agree on a new contract with Russell Wilson. Wilson has led the team to 2 Super Bowl appearances and apparently wants to be one of the highest paid players in the NFL. The only issue is that the Seahawks don’t want to fork up that kind of cash. If this remains unsettled heading into the regular season it could provide plenty of distractions for the team.
Can the Seahawks move past their Super Bowl blunder?
Obviously the Seahawks’ last play of the Super Bowl didn’t turn out the way that they would’ve liked. The bigger issue is the fact that losing a game of that magnitude can have lingering affects on a team. Will the Seahawks let that loss affect them this season, or will they use it as motivation moving forward?
How will Jimmy Graham fit in with the Seahawks’ offense?
One of the Seahawks’ biggest offseason acquisitions was Jimmy Graham. Seattle brought in the former Saint to help Russell Wilson and the rest of the receiving corps this upcoming season. It’s no secret that the receiving core was one of the team’s weaknesses last year, so hopefully the addition of Graham will help the team make it back to the Super Bowl.
Photo via Jimmy Graham Twitter page (image cropped)
Will Marshawn Lynch begin slowing down?
Running backs have a tendency to break down rather quickly in the NFL. It’s rare that you see a running back continuing to be effective well into their 30’s. With Lynch recently signing a new contract Seattle must believe that he can be effective for the next 2-3 years. By the time his contract expires he will be 32.
Will Damian Lillard be able to lead a young Blazer team?
This was one of the most stressful off-seasons that the Blazers have endured in quite some time. After not knowing LaMarcus Aldridge’s intentions for the past few years he finally made the decision to leave Portland and join the Spurs in San Antonio. With Aldridge officially gone it’s now up to Damian Lillard to lead this young team.
Who will Damian Lillard’s sidekick be?
With Damian Lillard being the lone starter who has seen playoff action he will desperately need someone else to step up. Will it be C.J. McCollum? Meyers Leonard? Or maybe one of the newcomers? If this team wants to experience any type of success this season they need a sidekick for Lillard.
Will the Blazers be able to move past LaMarcus Aldridge?
Whenever a team loses one of the best players in all the NBA there’s no doubt that there’s going to be an adjustment period. Instead of the off having the offense flow through LaMarcus Aldridge it will now run through Damian Lillard. This won’t only be an adjustment that the players will have to grow accustomed to, but also the coaching staff.
Can Meyers Leonard and C.J. McCollum continue improving?
If there’s one bright spot for the Blazers’ last postseason it’s that Meyers Leonard and C.J. McCollum showed drastic improvements. Leonard was an efficient 3-point shooter who could draw defenses out on him, while McCollum showed the ability to score the ball at will. Hopefully these 2 guys can continue improving this upcoming season.
Will Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath be able to lead the Thorns to the playoffs?
Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath are coming off of a World Cup victory. After going head-to-head with some of the best teams in the world there’s no question that Morgan and Heath have learned some invaluable lessons that they can share with the rest of the Thorns. It’s fairly uncommon for any club team to have 2 athletes who started on a World Cup team. Hopefully they can use that to their advantage as Portland continues with their season.
Can the Timbers fix their scoring woes?
After starting off the season in a rather sluggish manner the Timbers went on one of the longest winning streaks in franchise history. They currently stand as one of the best teams in the Western Conference even though they’ve had issues when it comes to scoring. If the Timbers have any hopes of advancing into the postseason they need to figure out how to score the ball more frequently.
Will Joseph Young be able to contribute to the Pacers this season?
Joseph Young has the potential to be one of the most successful Ducks in the NBA. He experienced plenty of success in college that made him the 43rd overall selection by the Indiana Pacers during this year’s NBA Draft. The first obstacle that Young must overcome is simply making the roster. Young had an outstanding Summer League that helped increase his chances of playing for Indiana during the 2015-2016 season.
Photo via Joseph Young Twitter page (image cropped)
Will Gary Payton II follow in his father’s footsteps?
It’s almost a guarantee that Gary Payton II has his eyes on the NBA. After all, how could you not when your father was one of the most iconic players to have played for the Seattle Supersonics? If he truly wants to make his dream a reality he has to prove to NBA teams that he has what it takes.
Photo via Gary Payton Twitter page (image cropped)
Will Royce Freeman emerge as a Heisman candidate?
The University of Oregon has been blessed with numerous football players that have turned out to be Heisman candidates. Dennis Dixon, LaMichael James and Marcus Mariota have all been nominated for college football’s most prestigious award. There have already been some rumblings that Royce Freeman could be the next Duck to be up for the Heisman. He had a breakout season as a true freshman. If he continues to dominate there’s no doubt the sky’s the limit for the true sophomore.
Can Marcus Mariota lead the Titans franchise?
Marcus Mariota is one of the most successful quarterbacks to have come through the University of Oregon. With him now in the NFL many are curious as to whether or not he can come in and contribute right away. The Tennessee Titans are in need of a franchise player, and Mariota could very well be that guy. We wont know for sure until this upcoming season.
Will Chip Kelly’s offseason moves pay off?
Chip Kelly made a plethora of off-season moves that have many analysts scratching their heads. He traded away one of the most effective running backs in the NFL as well as his starting quarterback. What he got in return were two players who are both coming off of ACL injuries. If Kelly has a plan it better work out soon otherwise he could quickly find himself unemployed.
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