Now or never
The Portland Trail Blazers have been on the outside looking in when it comes the playoff picture since All-Star Weekend. The team was exceeding expectations to start the year, but following a seven-game losing streak in February, their odds of making the postseason have decreased, to say the least.
That being said, there’s still a month and a half until the season comes to an end, and Portland has time to make up ground with a few key victories.
Making the playoffs isn’t going to be easy, but if the team buckles down and starts winning winnable games, they’ll be right there with the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth spot in a tough Western Conference.
March 4 vs. Charlotte Bobcats
This might be the first time the Charlotte Bobcats have ever been considered an important opponent; but trust me, it’s not an for endearing reasons.
If the Blazers lose to the Bobcats, you can count them out of the postseason. Portland has been guilty of playing both up and down to its competition this season, and it’s time that it starts to dominate the bottom-tier teams on a regular basis.
Charlotte has been the worst team in the league since John Wall returned to the Washington Wizards’ lineup. Beating them doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but losing to them paints a whole different picture.
March 24 @ Oklahoma City Thunder
When March 24 rolls around, we’re going to have a much better idea of what exactly Portland is fighting for this season.
If the team comes out and plays the Oklahoma City Thunder for 48 minutes, never giving up and never backing down, we’ll know that this team is looking at the playoffs as a legitimate possibility.
On the other hand, if the team lays and egg in OKC and walks away with their heads down, you can bet that the lottery is in their future.
There’s no question that the players in the locker room would rather make the postseason than get a better draft pick, but GM Neil Olshey and owner Paul Allen may have different ideas if this game doesn’t go as planned.
April 1 @ Utah Jazz
There’s no way to sugar coat this, but the month of April is going to be brutal for the Trail Blazers. Six of their nine games are on the road, and with the exception of the Dallas Mavericks (a dangerous team in their own right), all nine are going to be against Western Conference playoff opponents.
Getting off to a solid start is going to be key in finishing strong, and they’ll have to do it on the road against the Utah Jazz.
Utah has looked as if it will be a playoff team all season long, but a strong finish from the three teams behind it (Portland, the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers) could easily bump it out when it’s all said and done. Getting a win against the Jazz will be big for Portland in more way than one, and it will set the tone for a solid finish the final eight games.
April 10 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers have been the most disappointing team of the 2012-13 season, but they’re finishing strong and making a push at the playoffs.
Portland fans took pride in being better than L.A. during the first half of the year. Pinwheel Empire even went out of their way to regularly remind fans (via Twitter) of which quad had the better record.
— Pinwheel Empire (@pinwheelempire) February 9, 2013
But as the Lakers have begun to jell, they’ve surpassed Portland in the wins column, and they’re looking like the more likely of the two to compete beyond April 17.
It seems like forever ago that the Blazers beat L.A. at home on opening night. The team has played two contests against their hated rival since then, but neither has gone in their favor.
Both teams will enter this game needing wins, and the Blazers need to be the ones who simply want it more.
April 17 vs. Golden State Warriors
The final game of the regular season doesn’t always have a ton of meaning. Often times, one team has something to play for while the other doesn’t, and it ends up being a one-sided victory one way or the other.
This time, though, both teams should have something to fight for, and both should be ready to compete come April 17.
The Golden State Warriors have been on a different level than Portland all season, but that doesn’t change the fact that the two groups have had a lot in common. Both began the year exceeding expectations, both have begun to show their youth post All-Star Weekend and both now find themselves struggling with the postseason rapidly approaching.
While the Blazers are fighting for a spot in the playoff picture, the Warriors are trying not to fall out.
Both teams need wins, and the battle to close out the year could prove to be one of Portland’s more meaningful finales in recent memory.