The Time Is Now
As it turned out, a tight 120-115 overtime win left fans with more questions than answers — the most significant being: Can we trust the Trail Blazers in the postseason?
There are a number of characteristics a team must have in order to be a playoff-caliber organization. The ability to beat the league’s best is clearly up there, but step one, without a doubt, is taking down inferior opponents.
Luckily for Portland, it’s about to get that opportunity.
Despite facing six playoff teams in their last eight outings, the Blazers are slated to see just eight playoff squads in their final 14 contests. To makes things better, five of those teams come from out East, with four of them possessing worse records than Portland at this juncture (the Miami Heat are the only exception).
Despite matchups with the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers looming at the end of the year, the Blazers have a chance to rack up more wins en route to their first playoff appearance since 2011. The Western Conference will produce heavyweight battles in each round, and while you might think Portland is better suited to face the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder because of their regular-season face-offs, earning home-court advantage in Round 1 is crucial for this inexperienced postseason roster.
The question here becomes: What can Portland do to take advantage of a light schedule? First and foremost, closing out games the way it did to start the season is of the utmost importance. This is a squad that used to strike fear in the hearts of opponents with late-game heroics, and now it’s spent the last month playing stagnant offense and missing shots when it matters most.
More importantly, Portland needs to avoid being in late-game scenarios against the likes of the Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings. Going down to the wire against the Heat would be a fine day’s work even in a loss, but against the lower-tier organizations, one- and two-point wins will leave fans nervous, forgetting all about the cliche, “A win is a win.”
Following the narrow victory over Milwaukee, Damian Lillard said, “There’s nothing wrong with going into the game thinking you’re going to win, but that’s an NBA team over there,” per ESPN. And he’s exactly right.
Portland needs to remain confident as the season winds down, but “vigilantly confident” is probably a more appropriate way of looking at it. After the team’s hot start, opposing coaches began game planning differently for second and third meetings, and it goes without saying that the Blazers have gotten everyone’s best during the second half of the year.
There’s no reason Portland can’t push for a third or fourth seed by the end of the season, but it’s going to take hot shooting and an attention to defense to make it happen. The Blazers have long surpassed their win total from 2012-13, but with the team trending the wrong direction, it’s time to get back to business with an easier schedule the rest of the way.