The NBA playoffs have arrived and for Portland Trail Blazer fans, the season is over. There are, however, many compelling story lines to follow as the playoffs unfold. Here are your top stories to follow for Oregon and Portland Trail Blazer related news.
1. Players with Oregon ties: There are regrettably few players in the playoffs this year with ties to the wonderful state of Oregon: Ivan Johnson of the Atlanta Hawks (University of Oregon), Aaron Brooks (University of Oregon), Terrence Jones (Jefferson High School) and Mike Dunleavy Jr. (Jesuit High School). Johnson very well could be a deciding factor for the Hawks against the Indiana Pacers by bringing toughness and relentless energy on the inside. He also ranks very highly on my list of players you don’t want to heckle at an NBA game. The man is terrifying.
2. Former Trail Blazers: The NBA can be a revolving door of players from one team to another, and many former Trail Blazers now represent different teams in the playoffs. Players in key roles include Raymond Felton, the much maligned point guard who fled Portland after a miserable campaign in the 2011-2012 season. He now quarterbacks a fast paced, high scoring New York Knicks offense along with Jason Kidd. Another former Blazer point guard, Andre Miller, will play a big role for the Denver Nuggets, especially with Ty Lawson, the starter who is still getting back to full speed after an injury. Andre Miller continues to defy father time with his crafty game. Jamal Crawford, a 6th man of the year candidate for the Los Angeles Clippers, could be a big difference in their series against the Memphis Grizzlies. He will need to knock down jump shots to help spread the floor and keep the defense off balance. The most important former Trail Blazer in the playoffs might be Steve Blake for the Los Angeles Lakers. In the wake of Kobe Bryant’s season ending injury, and Steve Nash’s season long health problems, Blake becomes the rock in the backcourt. For the Lakers to have any chance against the Spurs, Blake will have to guide the ship on offense and help slow down Tony Parker on the other side of the ball.
3. The last thing to look for will be players who become free agents after this season. The Trail Blazers have a lot of needs to fill, and one of the many potential players to fill those holes could be playing come Saturday. Two players in particular to watch are J.J. Redick of the Milwaukee Bucks and Tiago Splitter of the San Antonio Spurs. Both will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season and could provide valuable help to the Trail Blazers at two positions they are particularly weak at. Redick has long been rumored as a target for the Blazers this coming offseason, but Tiago Splitter is particularly interesting. He has shaped into an excellent defender who is rarely out of position, and should command a reasonable enough amount of money in free agency for the Blazers to make a play. The question will be if they can pry him away from San Antonio, which has long been a model organization in the NBA and could provide a better team environment for Splitter in the long term.