The majority of Atlanta fans will look at the 2019-20 season as a positive, despite the horrid win/loss record. The Hawks have done a terrific job at building a squad for the future, and this was shown during the past season.
The Portland Trail Blazers have been on a hot streak since entering the NBA’s Disneyland bubble, led by monstrous performances from their star and bubble MVP Damian Lillard.
However, even though the Blazers worked their way into the playoffs and have already defeated the Lakers in Game 1 of their series, many still believe the Blazers are going to be an eventual first-round exit.
I disagree, and believe that the Blazers have what it takes to get past the first round, and potentially go all the way to the NBA finals. It may sound like crazy hype, but the Blazers have what it takes.
Firstly, since the Blazers only managed to scrape into the playoffs this year, it is easy to forget their incredible playoff run last season. The Blazers fought their way through some tough competition, including a Paul George/Russell Westbrook tandem leading the OKC Thunder and an immensely deep Denver Nuggets squad.
While they were eventual defeated by the immense star power of the Golden State Warriors, their efforts throughout that playoffs are not to be diminished by the conference finals defeat. This run adds to what we have learnt further throughout the bubble: that the Blazers have what it takes to compete with big names and win, while also having the playoff experience throughout their team.
The reason for the Blazers falling so low in the playoff seedings this year also comes down to a number of injuries they have endured throughout the season. Not one player in their squad has played throughout the entire 74 games they have competed in this season.
The major injury comes from Jusuf Nurkic, who has only played eight games throughout the entirety of the 2019-20 season. However, since his return he has looked impressive, even managing a monster double-double game against the Grizzlies, scoring 22 points and grabbing 21 rebounds in the play-in game.
While injuries have affected their season, Damian Lillard has continued to carry his squad.
Lillard average an impressive 30 points per game during the course of the 2019-20 regular season, marking a career high in PPG average for the superstar guard. However, while Lillard has been carrying the team at times, the Blazers also have an impressive supporting cast.
With players who are consistent and solid contributors for the team, and new recruits in Carmelo Anthony (who has been a solid scoring option for the side, averaging a respectable 15.4 points) and Hassan Whiteside (who has thrived this season with the Blazers, averaging 15.5 points and 13.5 rebounds). Whiteside also led the league in blocks per game and total blocks, averaging 2.9. With the return of Nurkic, the Blazers have a scary front-court presence, with rebounding prowess.
The Blazers have also been red hot since the NBA restart, being the most dominant team other than the Phoenix Suns throughout the bubble games. While this contributes to believing that they can go far, the performance of the other western conference contenders also adds to their chances. Both the Lakers and Clippers have seemingly not yet found their mojo, while the Blazers have good records against teams such as the Thunder and Rockets in recent years.
The depth in the Blazers’ supporting cast and the star power of Lillard has seen the Blazers have success in the past and recent success in the bubble. With players such as Lillard, Anthony and Whiteside all out to prove that they are winners, there is no reason to think that the Blazers could not come out on top in an open race.
While they are certainly not favourites, this team has the capabilities to make it far. In a season of unpredictability, it does not seem impossible to see the Larry O’Brien trophy make its way to Portland.