Second Half Of Portland Trail Blazers’ Season Could Be Rough, But That’s Okay

Damian LillardEvery fan wants their favorite team to win; it's kind of the whole point to being a fan. It seems impossible to sit down and watch your favorite team play and not root for them to win every game. It defeats the whole purpose of fandom otherwise.

However, once in a while, a scenario presents itself when it is better for a team to put tallies in the loss column rather than the win column. That time is now for the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Blazers currently sit tied for eighth place in the Western Conference with a 21-21 record and are right in the thick of the race for a playoff berth, but that isn't what this team really needs at this juncture.

Sure a playoff berth would be great for the team's (and the fan base’s) morale, but moving forward, a one-and-done playoff run would do no good for the organization. If the Blazers were to make the playoffs, it would likely be in the 7th or 8th seed, meaning the Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio Spurs would be the probable matchup. Let's be honest, the chances of the Blazers beating either of these teams in a seven game series are close to zero.

Sure a playoff berth in a year in which no outsider expected anything from the Blazers would be fun, but it would rob the team of a very important lottery pick as well. For small market teams in today's NBA, lottery picks are like gold and are the only way to rebuild, or "reload" in the Blazers' case. The Blazers have a great starting core, but are a bench away from being any sort of real threat.

The Blazers' bench is atrocious, that is brutally obvious. It is the only bench in the league without a player averaging more than 20 minutes per game and their highest scoring bench player is Meyers Leonard, who is only averaging 4.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. Leonard is also leading the team in most minutes per game off the bench, averaging 16.5.

This leaves the starting five with a very heavy load to carry, and they are doing their best. The five Blazer starters are playing 75 percent of the total minutes possible and are scoring 74 percent of the Blazers' points. LaMarcus Aldridge was just named to his second consecutive All-Star Game, Damian Lillard is running away with the NBA Rookie of the Year award, and the other three starters (Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and J.J. Hickson) are all having by far the best seasons of their careers.

One could easily argue that the Blazers starting five could play with any other starting five in the league, but unfortunately that isn't how the NBA works.

During the month of December and early January, the Blazers starters were able to give fans a brief glimpse into what could be. They won 14 of 19 games, including impressive wins over the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden. While this run was impressive, the 7-16 record outside of the run is very telling of where the Blazers truly are.

Perhaps more telling however is the fact that the impressive run was preceded by a four-game losing streak and followed by a six-game losing streak; more proof that the starters desperately need help. Towards the end of the Blazers' hot streak, playoff talks in Portland were alive and well as people truly started to believe it was a viable option this season. While this playoff notion seems like an attractive thought at first glance, and sure the starters have more than earned it, that isn’t what is best for the Blazers in the long run.

This Blazer team is at least one high-lottery pick away from even being close to a contender, if not two or three.

Chances are this playoff "problem" will take care of itself naturally as the season deepens. The Blazers’ schedule gets decisively harder; Lillard will no longer take teams by surprise and the likelihood of the starters all staying healthy at this playing-pace is small. With four starters averaging over 35 minutes a game, bodies are going to start to wear down. Minor injuries will happen. Fatigue will set in.

Or the Blazers will move Hickson prior to the February 21st trade deadline and the playoffs will really become a non-issue altogether.

While this notion may seem crazy to some (given the season he is having) the fact remains Hickson (who is averaging a double-double currently) will require a very hefty contract this offseason when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. While letting this lovable big man go would be tough now, two or three future first-round draft picks wouldn't be bad parting gifts for the future.

Either way, the chances that the Blazers continue this unforeseen run and sneak their way into the playoffs aren't great, but that's okay.

The core of the Blazers have shown the ownership and the city a great deal this season, giving everyone involved reason for hope moving forward. They are winning an impressive amount of the big games and when they do lose, it's usually a battle to the end; at this point, that is all the Blazer faithful can ask for.

So while the second half of the season may get tough for the Blazers, fans must take solace if the losses begin to stack up, knowing they will be a good thing in the long run. 

Vince Tushner is on Twitter. Follow him at @SportsVince21

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