The Portland Trail Blazers have a fighter’s chance at the three seed — even if they don’t win 50 games.
As of Sunday, the Trail Blazers currently hold the five seed with a 34-26 record. Normally, that record would have a team barely in the playoffs in the NBA Western Conference.
But this year the West is a bit different. The Rockets and Warriors are both over 10 games above the rest of the competition and many of Portland’s western peers have major issues of their own.
Right now, the Blazers are 1.5 games behind current three seed San Antonio. Minnesota sits in between the two teams.
So, common sense be damned, it appears the Blazers have a chance to wind up as the three seed in the West, and believe me, I never thought that scenario would be in play when the season began.
The Blazers have been playing good basketball recently, winning five of their last six games. Point guard Damian Lillard has been a human blowtorch in February, averaging 32 points per game with three games of 40 points or more, including a 50-burger in Sacramento.
CJ McCollum has been his usual self, and with a decent supporting cast and clear development from role players like Pat Connaughton and Zach Collins, it is not surprising the Blazers could be a tough out come playoff time.
Hey, the Blazers even have a top-ten defensive rating! Maybe this is the year the stars align?
Yeah, probably not. Portland is a more complete team this season, but the main reason it could get a higher seed Is because dominoes have fallen all around the Western Conference, and so far, Rip City has gone unscathed.
With the injuries to DeMarcus Cousins and Jimmy Butler, Blake Griffin getting shipped off to Detroit and the odd drama with Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio, Portland could steal its way to the three perch.
FiveThirtyEight projects the Blazers finish the season with a 47-35 record. That is a solid season, but nowhere near recent Western Conference three seeds, which have only belonged to teams with at least 54 wins this decade (not counting the strike-shortened season of 2012).
But here’s the thing, the only two teams above Portland in the race for the three seed — San Antonio and Minnesota — are both projected to go 48-26, just one game ahead of the Blazers. Of course, both those squads are missing their best player, which helps too.
Sitting behind Portland are New Orleans, OKC and Denver, all of whom have their own issues. Even though Anthony Davis is amazing, the Pelicans can only do so much without Cousins, OKC is maybe the most inconsistent team in the league, not to mention that Carmelo Anthony is clearly past his prime, and while Denver is talented, the eighth-seeded Nuggets are young and inexperienced.
The Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz are both playing well, but neither are currently in the playoff field, so passing Portland in the race for the three seed seems unlikely.
If Portland keeps winnings and gets a few lucky bounces, the Blazers might find themselves hosting the six seed in April.