The Portland Trail Blazers are seemingly on the journey towards another middling campaign after a steady but unspectacular start to their 2020/21 season. The Blazers were soundly beaten in the first round of the playoffs in the last campaign by the Los Angeles Lakers, but did get a semblance of revenge in the second week of the term by defeating LeBron James and company on the road.
It was a Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum special to overcome LeBron and Anthony Davis, although support did come from the bench in the form of Gary Trent, who scored 28 points. Results of that nature will give the Blazers confidence that they can compete with the best in the Western Conference. A victory over the Golden State Warriors followed, although Terry Stotts’ men have had issues regarding their consistency, after splitting their opening nine games with a 5-4 record.
Their early-season form suggests the Portland are heading back towards a playoff berth, and this season more than any other seems to be wide open. The Lakers have come back to the pack to a degree, while teams of the ilk of the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks are on the rise with their fledgling talent. The Blazers are backed in the NBA betting on bet365 at +2200 to win the Western Conference, highlighting the challenge ahead of Stotts and his team to overhaul the top teams within their conference.
Portland boasted the third-best offense in the NBA last season due to the brilliance of Lillard and McCollum. Normally that would allow a franchise to compete for the NBA crown. However, the Blazers were ranked 26th on defense, which left them exposed and put Lillard and McCollum under huge pressure in the final third.
This term the Blazers have made minor strides forward after the first month of the campaign. They’re allowing 115 points per game that ranks them in the bottom third of the league once again. The addition of Enes Kanter may make a difference down the stretch as the Turk was part of a stoic Boston Celtics’ unit last season. He notched 14 rebounds against the Lakers and another 15 in their win over the Sacramento Kings. Kanter cannot do it all by himself and there needs to be contributions from Robert Covington, Carmelo Anthony and Jusuf Nurkic, as well as Lillard and McCollum, to keep points off the board.
The experienced McCollum has had an outstanding start to the season, averaging 27.9 points per game. The 29-year-old is making 4.9 three-pointers in each contest and is currently on pace to smash his best PPG return of 23.0 achieved in the 2016/17 season. Lillard’s standards have not declined, keeping pace with his team-mate with an average of 26.4 PPG. Portland’s fate once again rests in their hands as the rest of the line-up has been mediocre at best in their contributions. Anthony and Trent have made decent efforts, but nowhere near enough to ease the burden from the talented duo.
The Blazers have fallen into a similar trap from their ill-fated campaigns of the last five years. Stotts is placing too much pressure on Lillard and McCollum to perform. It might be enough to reach the post-season, but the early signs are not encouraging for a deep run to match the best in the west unless there is a turnaround on defense and a significant step forward from another player outside of Lillard and McCollum in the attacking third of the court.