The truth is, this has been a formality waiting to happen. Portland had lost six straight games entering the weekend, and it was a matter of time before the squad from the Pacific Northwest was mathematically knocked out of the picture.
The question is, with less than two weeks to play, what can we expect with the year coming to a close?
As we’ve seen not only this season, but during 2011-12, there’s no time like the end of the year to get guys healthy.
LaMarcus Aldridge has already missed a handful of games, but while he made his triumphant return against Houston (32 PTS, 13 REB, 63 FG%), the team has another player out with an injury.
Nicolas Batum is now sidelined with a shoulder injury, and while it’s difficult to determine the severity of the ailment, it’s safe to say that the team will be cautious moving forward.
The Youth Movement
With Nicolas Batum—and any other core player the team deems unable to suit up—out down the stretch, except to see the reserves play a bigger role.
The bench has been the giant elephant in the room, except for the fact that nobody’s afraid to point out its deficiencies. The backups began the year unable to score, unable to rebound and unable to defend, but as the year has gone on, we’ve at least seen energy and effort out of the team’s youngsters.
Meyers Leonard and Victor Claver have shown that they have potential to be rotation players. With the playoffs now out of the question, the starters will get their rest, and the prospects will officially begin their tryouts for the 2013-14 season.
Leadership from LMA
As long as LaMarcus Aldridge remains healthy and on the floor, the squad is his for the rest of the year.
Fans and media alike have made the argument that the Trail Blazers are officially Damian Lillard’s team to mold. The NBA is a point guard’s league, Aldridge’s contract ends in 2015 and the 6’3” floor general has shown incredible skills in just his rookie season.
But with inexperience spread all over this roster, Aldridge has to be the one to keep everybody focused.
In his return game on Friday, the forward was the only player who truly stood out. The youth movement can be fun to watch at times, but it can also be frustrating if nobody steps up and takes charge.
Unconditional Effort (Hopefully)
The Blazers are officially playing for a spot in the lottery—not a spot in the postseason. You know management is going to start strategizing when it comes to the draft, but the players on the court have to play to the best of their abilities.
It’s easy to imagine a young team getting down on itself at this point in the year. That being said, every young player is fighting for a spot—whether on this team or another—and there’s no sense in throwing in the towel.
As an NBA fan, you can root for the lottery if you want, but remember; you can’t complain about the games at the same time. All you want to see as a fan is effort and production, and if this team plays with pride the rest of the way, that’s exactly what you’ll get regardless of the record.