The Portland Trail Blazers are amid a slog for seeding this year. It may be cliche, but this is one of the most closely contested NBA regular seasons in recent memory. Primarily in the wild Western Conference, where one run can push you near the top of the standings, only five games separate second and seventh. Teams that were once in the doldrums have soared up the conference. With that said, in the second half of the season, there’s plenty to play for.
This could be a year where a fifth or sixth seed wins the whole thing, which was only accomplished once, by the Houston Rockets in 1995, led by Hakeem ‘The Dream’ Olajuwon. The Nigerian-American superstar did so much in the 90s for growing the game globally that the contemporary NBA is an international sport. NBA League Pass subscriptions show growth in Japan, Australia, Brazil, and the Philippines.
This growth in the popularity of watching basketball has also led to a boom in international betting on the game. There are now many online sports bookmakers globally that have plenty of webpages dedicated to the NBA. For example, online sports betting in Japan has sections where you can bet on individual games and the NBA champion. The Brooklyn Nets currently have the best odds at +250, while the Lakers aren’t far behind at +320. While the bookmakers don’t have much faith in the Blazers at +6500, stranger things have happened! But what will really help the Blazer’s chances this year?
The Blazers were not quiet in the offseason. After reaching the summit of the Western Conference in 2019, only to be beaten by the Warriors, they struggled in the 2020 season. They heated up in the bubble last year but were swept by Lebron and the Lakers. Coming into the season, they addressed a need for a versatile 3-and-D forward with Robert Covington and just added explosive wing scorer Norman Powell. The Blazers now boast three 20 PPG scorers, with Kanter’s additional support and Melo’s added punch off the bench. The Blazers need to integrate Powell to sustain success and push further. Covington has added the much-needed defense; now they need reliability from a third starter in scoring to make some noise in the playoffs.
All this is without Nurkić fully fit and firing. The center has had an awful time this season after showing such promise last year. He is an integral part of the team and presents a matchup problem for many opponents, as well as being a big body to throw at rivals like Anthony Davis on the Lakers. In the second half of the season, Nurkić’s health will be a priority, the fewer injuries in heading to the postseason, the better. However, McCollum has come back as strong as he left after missing 25 games already this season. Thanks to MVP candidate Damien Lillard’s stellar play and late-game heroics, the Blazers have managed to keep their season well and truly alive. Nevertheless, the Blazers will need their best players healthy, especially one who gives them 24 PPG this season.
One of the leading proponents of the Blazers is their team chemistry. In this turbulent and shortened season, it seems that familiarity and psychic team play may be the difference-maker. With some teams still new to each other, groups like the Utah Jazz, who have been together a long time, are thriving. The same can be said for the Blazers; Dame and C.J. are in their eighth season together and are among the NBA’s elite backcourts. Nurkić has been on the team since 2017; they’re familiar with Melo and Kanter. All things considered, this is a very tight group that could push the Blazers to their first finals since 1992.
The Blazers have a lot riding on this season. They’ve gone all-in with some new additions and have given everything they can to star backcourt duo of Dame and C.J. for them to succeed. The Western Conference is as monstrous as ever, but if this team is ever to win an NBA championship again, this may be their best chance with this particular group of players.