Whether you can believe it or not, we are just a few weeks away from the start of the new National Basketball Association season. Yes, it does seem like just yesterday that LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers were holding up the NBA Finals trophy (that’s because it practically was).
On short notice and short rest, the season is ready to get underway and the league looks a little bit different than what it did at the end of the bubble. Chris Paul has been traded to the Phoenix Suns, Russell Westbrook and John Wall were flipped in a trade between the Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards and Gordon Hayward conned the Charlotte Hornets into giving him way too much money.
The Portland Trail Blazers ended their 2020 campaign in the first round of the “Bubble Playoffs” to the Lakers and were just 35-39 total. This offseason, they re-signed Carmelo Anthony for the league minimum, who will play a bench role that he says was tough to accept.
“It’s what works for this team, what we need for this team,” Anthony said. “It’s not if I should be starting or not. I don’t think that’s the question, I don’t think anybody would question [that]. I definitely don’t question that. But it’s just what’s the best situation for the team and make it work for all parties.”
They traded away Mario Hezonja and Trevor Ariza while gaining Robert Covington, Derrick Jones Jr., and Enes Kanter. The Trail Blazers didn’t necessarily make a massive splash but these moves are all considered solid and they were given an A rating by The Score. And of course, they are returning Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum who are eyeing down an NBA Championship.
“You gotta be a really deep and experienced team to win. I think we got two guys in myself and CJ who are very capable, and a pretty deep roster, (a title) could very well happen. Nobody knows until it gets to that point. We got this, we got that, and if it comes together right, it’s clicking right, we’re on top of things we should be doing, it can happen. We do know it’s possible,” Lillard said.
This new Blazers squad will be challenged immediately as the first part of their schedule is no cake-walk. Here is what their first 10 games look like:
12/23 – Utah Jazz
12/26 – Houston Rockets
12/28 – at Los Angeles Lakers
12/30 – at Los Angeles Clippers
1/1 – at Golden State Warriors
1/3 – at Golden State Warriors
1/5 – Chicago Bulls
1/7 – Minnesota Timberwolves
1/9 – at Sacramento Kings
1/11 – Toronto (Tampa) Raptors
There is a lot to unpack here, but from a quick glance, this is not an easy beginning for a team coming off an underwhelming season. They will immediately face four different playoff teams in their first four games, they have an incredibly difficult stretch on the road against two Finals candidates and a Warriors team that should regain their dynasty form this season.
The first big test will come on opening night as the Utah Jazz are no slumps and they just gave Donovan Mitchell a max-contract. The Jazz project as a bottom-half playoff team in the West and every game that the Blazers see them in is of the utmost importance, right from the get go.
Following that up with the Rockets may actually be a bit of a break as it seems like there is chaos and a lack of chemistry with new head coach Stephen Silas and the absence of James Harden from Houston’s camp. If there was a time to get the Rockets, this seems like an opportune one.
Of course, the away stretch won’t be easy. The Lakers will be hungry and ready to go and their roster only got more talented during the offseason with some major pickups. The Clippers project to be the same way as they are returning their man guys.
The stretch gets no easier against Golden State. Steph Curry and Draymond Green should be back to their regular health and they’ve made some good moves this offseason to improve the roster immediately with Kelly Oubre and James Wiseman.
After that first stretch, the rest of January gets a bit easier for Portland but the Western Conference is no joke this year and it should be a tough go for the whole season. This is who they will shake out against for the rest of January.
1/13 – at Sacramento
1/14 – vs. Indiana
1/16 – vs. Atlanta
1/18 – vs. San Antonio
1/20 – vs. Memphis
1/22 – vs. Memphis
1/24 – vs. New York
1/25 – vs. Oklahoma City
1/28 – at Houston
I think this will be a much easier run for the Blazers although Atlanta will not rollover to opponents in 2021 and the Grizzlies will be much improved. As far as it goes for the Knicks and the Thunder…who knows. The Eastern Conference has a few bad teams and the Knicks are one of them and the Thunder got rid of Paul and Steven Adams which makes things very young in Oklahoma City.
Here’s the way I see the Blazers first 19 games going: Blazers finish 11-8. I think they get that first win of the season out of the way against the Rockets, losing in the first game to Utah. I think they start 1-3 after seeing the Lakers and Clippers and split a game with the Warriors. That puts them at 2-4.
A three-game winning streak gets them above .500 and then back to .500 against the Raptors. I give them wins against Sacramento and Indiana for a 7-5 record and a loss to the Hawks to put them at 7-6. This is where the schedule lightens up as they win two of three with San Antonio and Memphis, beat the Knicks, beat Oklahoma City but get tanked by a Rockets team that has Harden back. In total, 11-8.
This is all premature and injuries, nights off and general things happen. But what I’m trying to do here is temper expectations of a crazy start while offering hope that the Blazers can win quality games this year. I’m not sure they can compete with the Lakers on any given night but they’ll finish well enough to avoid the play-in game in the Western Conference Playoffs this time around.