Portland Trail Blazers – With Rip City Up 2-0, Series Shifts To Oklahoma City For Pivotal Game 3

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Well dear readers, your fighting Portland Trail Blazers are not just back in the playoffs, but they are back as playoff winners and as a result must be taken seriously. If you turned 30 this year, you haven’t seen them win a playoff game since you were a sniveling 27 year old, and that’s just no way to go through life. So much happens in those three years, and to prove it, your team went from one that’s pretty good, to one that’s pretty depressing, to one that’s pretty great – all in three short years. Just imagine how much you’ve changed. They really should redefine those years in a person’s late 20’s to early 30’s as the true formative years, the data is there and in most cases you mature more during those years than your adolescence.

Speaking of maturing, the Trail Blazers didn’t just end their playoff losing streak, they shattered the damn thing and won two in a row to prove they are not the same team that will fold under the pressure as they did in years past. No sir and no ma’am, these Blazers are for real and must be treated as such.

Carrying a 2-0 best of seven series lead in to game three, will we keep seeing the scoring barrage from Portland, will the Thunder remember how to shoot, and most importantly – can the Blazers win this series?

To answer those thrilling questions and more, we woke up Fireside Sports co-hosts Bryant Knox (BK) and Casey Mabbott (CM), ordered them to fire up the search engines, turn on at least one light (we can afford electricity every month now, we’re grownups afterall), and microwave yesterday’s coffee (we’re grown ups, not millionaires)- and to get the hell to work. Work is of course in the poorly lit corner of the the half empty cafe up the street, because we need the wifi, and they have really good soup specials for lunch. Like we already told you – we’re not millionaires.

Without further ado, here is this week’s lightning round-

1. Portland claimed game one in their series versus Oklahoma City, their first playoff victory since 2016. As if that wasn’t a big enough deal, they then trounced OKC in game two to take a 2-0 lead. How excited should Blazer fans be after being forced to watch these Blazers get swept in 2017 and 2018?

(BK) This is a really big deal, but not so much regarding the weight of the losing streak off their shoulders. That’s important for historical context, but this 2-0 lead is huge in the moment because it sets up a very real path not just to the second round but to the Western Conference Finals. In earning the No. 3 seed, Portland, should it advance, will avoid the Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors (sorry, Utah and LAC fans) until the league’s penultimate round. The Blazers would likely be favored in a series against either the San Antonio Spurs or Denver Nuggets, and although neither or those teams are gimmies by any means, the energy in Rip City would be at its highest in a very long time.

(CM) Blazers fans should be thrilled. No matter what Neil Olshey tells you, the amount of games won in the regular season does not take away from the pain of being embarrassed in the postseason. It doesn’t hurt that the same team that swept these Blazers in the regular season just doesn’t seem to have an answer for the Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum duo that has been on fire in the first two games. Sure Paul George has a bum shoulder and that has to be taken in to account, but that doesn’t take away from how well the bench has been playing or that Terry Stotts has been masterful in his rotations, or even further that Russell Westbrook has not been playing well. Expect OKC to adjust at home but this has been an extremely impressive start and the Rip City faithful should be proud of their team.

2. According to wegotthiscovered.com, the Blazers’ game two win elevates their odds to win the series to 84%. Stats in a vacuum are fun and all, but where do you realistically put the Blazers’ chances to advance to round 2 for the first time since – you guessed it – 2016?

(BK) I actually like their chances based on what I’ve seen, but mostly if Paul George’s shoulder continues to limit his effectiveness, and more specifically, limit his efficiency. Russell Westbrook is more than capable of taking on the scoring load, but the efficiency in which he’s able to do it is the bigger variable when it comes to OKC’s chances night in and night out. Russ had too many plays that were out of control in Game 1, whereas Damian Lillard stayed cool and collected for 48 minutes. Ditto for Game 2 despite a few errant passes from Dame that proved moot in the blowout. If nothing else, I’m riding with Lillard in this one, and I’m okay admitting that’s the most important factor in my eyes at this moment. He’s been the best player in the series, and he’s putting plenty of Russ vs. Dame debates to rest along the way.  

(CM) 84% sounds high, but not by a lot, I’d put their chances at 75%. As impressed as I was with Portland’s effort in both games, the Thunder played like they had never heard of Dr. James Naismith’s peach basket innovation and you can’t count on that happening the rest of the way, especially when they play at home. George’s lingering shoulder injury probably isn’t going anywhere, so you really only have to worry about a struggling Westbrook since the Thunder lack a go-to scorer after those two stars. These teams seem remarkably similar and if you can find a way to slow or shut down one of their stars, there is too much pressure on the other. We’ve seen this done to Dame and CJ in the past, it’s nice to see them dealing it out for a change. Even when the Thunder get some pressure on the Blazers’ backcourt duo, for the first time in a long time, the Blazers’ depth isn’t a liability, and that spells trouble for the Thunder.

3. Damian Lillard commented after game one that the Thunder’s poor shooting wasn’t the result of anything the Blazers did. But then the same thing happened in game two, and the Thunder played even worse. Do you agree with Lillard, or is he just being modest and refusing to give the Thunder any bulletin board material?

(BK) I think it’s more of a telling statement than a concerning one, re: Lillard’s Game 1 comment. If anything, it tells you that Lillard (and presumably the rest of the team and coaching staff) realizes that shooting narratives can switch drastically from night to night. If Lillard says their misses are on the Thunder and not on Portland’s defense, it’s a sign that the Blazers are ready to improve upon their game, as evidenced by their Game 2 blowout win. Losing a big lead is never ideal—especially in the playoffs—which happened in Game 1, but letting the Thunder back into it and only winning by five points after being up by 19 did wonders for keeping the group focused.

(CM) Lillard is a class act, a great and smart leader, and I think he is being modest. So far in this series, the Thunder are shooting 40% from the field, which is pretty average, but are a dismal 10 for 61 from three point range. So if you were curious about all those hypotheticals about historic players competing in today’s NBA – I think we are seeing what that might look like when a team with established outside shooters plays a team with guys who can only score within an arm’s length of the hoop. I think the Blazers can continue to turn up the defensive intensity, but the Thunder’s shooting troubles from long range are either due to them sucking at today’s era of basketball, or the Blazers have become a great defensive team even if they lack a single elite defender. It’s most likely a combination of both, the Thunder are chucking up bricks and the Blazers are applying great pressure to make the Thunder struggle to keep up on the scoreboard. I think sooner or later the Blazers will come down to earth and the Thunder will remember how to shoot, but I’ll enjoy the current trend as long as it lasts.  

4. Portland center Enes Kanter had an amazing performance in game one, and was off to a good start in game two before checking out with a wrist injury. Does Portland have enough front court depth if Kanter struggles or misses time?

(BK) The duality of Enes Kanter is that you typically give back what you get out of him. His efense is isastorous and his playmaking is limited beyond his solo showings at the rim (which are admittedly effective much of the time). If he’s out, you automatically improve on defense with the insertion of Zach Collins. Not having his offense would be problematic, but that’s where you throw Meyers Leonard into the deep end and hope the modest offensive success he found earlier in the season translate to some extent against a center who prefers to operate at the cup in Steven Adams.

(CM) Kanter’s numbers in April would be really tough to reproduce given the depth behind him, but Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard have done enough to quiet the harshest skeptics, even just for now. Leonard is probably never going to produce the way Kanter does game after game, and Collins doesn’t do enough rebounding to fill in full time, but for now the trio of trees are getting the job done and giving the other starters the support they need and deserve. If OKC continues to misfire from downtown, it may not matter who is playing center for Portland. Maybe it’s finally time to give Festus Ezeli a uniform and see what he’s got before the Warriors bring him back to replace Boogie.  

5. If Portland advances, are you hoping for Denver or San Antonio in the second round?

(BK) I’m pulling for San Antonio for the absolute mania that would take place from LaMarcus Aldridge returning for a playoff series. No, it’s not KD going back to OKC…but the chance to eliminate The Defector is no less appealing now that the good vibez once against exist between he and Dame. Aldridge is back in the good graces of many Rip Citizens, but there’s still nothing like seeing an ex and knowing you won—and knocked em out of the NBA playoffs, or however that saying goes.

(CM) Call me crazy, but I’m pulling for Denver. I don’t care how much talent they’ve given up in the last couple of years, do you really, I mean really want to play a Gregg Popovich team in April? Not interested! I know Denver is very talented and well coached and a great team and won a lot of games…but do you really want to take on Popovich in April?! I feel like that point isn’t getting across. Portland matches up well with both teams and I think the Spurs have less depth than perhaps ever during the Popovich era, and while the Nuggets are no slouch, they don’t scare me and most likely overachieved this year. I just don’t want to give LaMarcus Aldridge the chance to spoil what could be a good run for Portland. Since I assume this really boils down to which former Blazers I want to see, I’d rather take my chances with Will Barton and Mason Plumlee (and Paul Milsap since he should have been here) over Aldridge, Patty Mills, and Dante Cunningham.

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About Author

Casey Mabbott

Casey Mabbott is a writer and podcast host born and raised in West Philadelphia where he spent most of his days on the basketball court perfecting his million dollar jumpshot. Wait, no, that’s all wrong. Casey has spent his entire life here in the Pacific NorthWest other than his one year stint as mayor of Hill Valley in an alternate reality 1985. He’s never been to Philadelphia, and his closest friends will tell you that his jumpshot is the farthest thing from being worth a million bucks. Casey enjoys all sports and covering them with written words or spoken rants. He has made an art of movie references, and is a devout follower of 80's movies and music. I don't know why you would to, but you can probably find him on the street corner waiting for the trolley to take him to the stadium or his favorite pub, where he will be telling people the answers to questions they don’t remember asking. And it only goes downhill from there if he drinks. He’s a real treat.

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