However faint the Portland Trail Blazers hopes for a playoff berth may be, the fact of the matter is they are still in the discussion. Following the NBA All-Star break, I wrote that this last stretch of games would demonstrate who on this season’s roster had the grit and fight to scrap for wins. As it turns out there are a number of Blazers that possess said intangibles. There is not a lot of quit in this team, from the head coach on down.
Mathematically it is still quite possible for the Blazers to squeak into the playoffs. But if they do, you can bet the Blazer fan base will have the same feeling they get when they sneak through a yellow light and can’t help but to look in the rear view mirror for the flash of the traffic cam. It will be close.
Currently in the eleventh spot in the Western Conference, the Blazers are 2.5 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers, who sit uncomfortably as the eighth and final playoff seed. Although the Blazers’ first round pick would be sacrificed, most Portland fans would agree that to bounce the Lakers from the playoffs for the first time since the 2004-2005 season would be, well, pretty sweet.
Although the Blazers got thumped on Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, there have not been many games in which Portland hasn’t fought tooth and nail to win the game. During this time, various players have stepped forward to contribute. Meyers Leonard has logged valuable minutes in relief, as has newly acquired point guard Eric Maynor. Joel Freeland has been a pleasant surprise of late. The Blazer bench is still a long way from where it needs to be, but it’s nice to see that it is no longer just the starting five and everyone else.
In last week’s post, I made rather strong overtures that it was not necessarily time for the Blazers to fold up the tent and raise the white flag, but the outlook is bleak. I’m going to back off that just a bit. The experience the Blazers gain by trying to be a winner this season creates a positive culture for the team. Especially for the guys that will be back next year. By winning, or at least fighting to win, attitudes and expectations are forged for the direction of the team going forward. This in my opinion is just as, if not more important for a young team than another first round lottery pick.
After all, it’s the job of the players and the coaches to win basketball games. It is the job of the general manager and his staff to assemble players that will win. If the Blazers need a first round pick, than Neil Olshey should find a way to get them one. Because knocking the Lakers out of the playoffs would be a lot more satisfying than watching ping pong balls.
Patrick Hughes is on Twitter. Follow him at @phughespdx