There are two big questions that come to mind with this prediction: Can the Blazers reach this lofty goal, and where would 46 wins put Rip City in the race for the playoffs?
If you’re Damian Lillard, you don’t want to come across as anything except confident. The Blazers got significantly better off the bench during the offseason, and with reserves who can actually score, rebound and act as real-life basketball players, the Rookie of the Year is displaying his pleasure with what GM Neil Olshey accomplished.
But while confidence is of the essence when it comes to competing, we on the outside looking in can make note of one very important fact: The rest of the West is also vastly improved.
Last year’s standings had the Houston Rockets as the lowest playoff seed. Needless to say, that won’t be the case this time around following the acquisition of Dwight Howard. The Golden State Warriors are also improved, as Andre Iguodala makes them legitimate contenders entering the year.
That brings us to the Denver Nuggets, who have widely been looked at as the losers of the offseason, as they fired Coach of the Year George Karl and lost Iggy to one of the most exciting teams in The Association. As much as they lost, the Nuggets are still looked at as a lock for the sixth or seventh seed.
So let’s look at how Portland compares to teams closer to its weight class. The Minnesota Timberwolves finished 31-51 in 2012-13, but the truth is that they should be one of the most improved squads this season. They’ve added sharpshooter Kevin Martin to the rotation, and they’ll have Kevin Love back following a year that was devastated with injuries.
The Utah Jazz are competing for a spot in the lottery, so count them out of this conversation. However, the Dallas Mavericks have completed yet another facelift entering 2013-14; one that gives them hope of sneaking into the postseason.
Even the New Orleans Hornets Pelicans, who successfully traded out of a historically weak draft and acquired All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday, could surprise some people. And don’t forget about the Los Angeles Lakers. The team has a core of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash that, if healthy, will fight to the bitter end to avoid the embarrassment they endured last season.
This isn’t the Eastern Conference where the only competition is at the top—there are talented rosters across the standings.
The seventh through 10th seeds could all be up for grabs in the final month of the year, giving Portland a run for its money when it’s all said and done.
Howard-Cooper: Blazers “In Decent Spot To Make Playoffs” http://t.co/D3Y5DiNYKE
— Ben Golliver (@blazersedge) August 26, 2013
So let’s get back to the topic at hand: Is Lillard crazy or confident in his prediction? In this case, the two are not mutually exclusive. Let’s substitute the word “crazy” with “strikingly optimistic,” as the team must click on all cylinders in order to reach his goal.
Portland was victorious in 33 contests during 2012-13, and it has a legitimate chance to reach the 40-win mark this time around. If everybody stays healthy, it can even eclipse that spot by a few games.
That said, 46 seems a little too strikingly optimistic for most reasonable basketball minds, as defense will be problematic even with Robin Lopez clogging the middle.
Last season, 46 wins was good enough for the seventh seed out West. Despite all the changes made throughout the conference, let’s assume that fact holds true in 2014.
That leaves the Blazers in a tough spot. Obtaining 46 wins ultimately gets the job done, but reaching that mark will be tough in a conference full of challengers.
If the team were out East, 46 wins would be realistic with the competition deteriorating as soon as you hit the sixth seed. However, the Blazers are in a cluster of teams fighting for a spot in the playoffs, and the 40-win mark seems like a more reasonable goal at this point in the process.
Fans across Portland won’t complain with Lillard’s confidence, but once the season starts, they’ll need to see it on the floor from the rest of the improved roster.