DENVER, CO – MAY 7: Damian Lillard (0) of the Portland Trail Blazers shows signs of frustration against the Denver Nuggets during the third quarter on Tuesday, May 7, 2019. The Denver Nuggets versus the Portland Trail Blazers in game five of the teams’ second round NBA playoff series at the Pepsi Center in Denver. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)


The Portland Trail Blazers 2019 season will feature three new starters from a team that went to the Western Conference Finals. However, the backcourt is back. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are back in Portland, which could be all that matters.

Portland Trail Blazers 2019 Season Preview

Recap of Last Season

Following a disastrous sweep in the 2018 NBA Playoffs at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland was able to land the three seed for the second straight season.

The main players in that run were, of course, Lillard and McCollum. However, other rotational players stepped up throughout the regular season and even more so in the postseason.

When Jusuf Nurkic went down with a gruesome leg injury, the season was in the balance. However, the team was able to massage the situation by getting solid play down the stretch from Zach Collins and surprising play out of Meyers Leonard.

At the trade deadline, the team also made a couple of huge pickups in Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter. Kanter was also someone who stepped up in a big way in the frontcourt, especially in the postseason.

Once the playoffs started, Lillard took his play to another level from the regular season, where he was a first-team All-NBA performer. In the first-round series, Portland easily took care of the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games.

The second-round against the Denver Nuggets was much more contested. It featured a historic four-overtime game, which Portland won. It also featured a 3-2 Portland deficit in the series, and then a game seven win on the road to advance to the conference finals.

The Western Conference Finals is where the rubber met the road, however. While Portland did have double-digit leads in three of the four games, the team was ultimately swept by the Golden State Warriors. This brought an end to the first conference finals appearance for Portland since 2000.

Offseason Changes

Gone are Al-Farouq Aminu, and Maurice Harkless from the starting lineup. Gone off the bench are Seth Curry, Leonard, and Evan Turner.

New is Kent BazemoreMario HezonjaAnthony Tolliver, and Hassan Whiteside.

Also, in the draft, the Trail Blazers were able to get Nassir Little after he slipped in the draft. Many experts viewed that pick as a complete steal.

The team is looking at having three new starters at the beginning of the season. When Nuckic comes back, he could slide back into the starting lineup, but with Harkless and Aminu gone two new players are going to step in for those two. Collins will likely step in at power forward. At small forward, it’s more of a question who will step in.

The team might not have as much depth on the bench as they did a season ago either. However, they do have some young guys that should have a chance to step in and provide depth.

Trail Blazers 2019 Season Expectations

Expectations are high in Rip City. With the team coming off of a Western Conference Finals appearance and Lillard and McCollum still being in their prime as the leaders of their team.

Fans are also excited after the offseason acquisitions of Bazemore and Whiteside. Bazemore adds depth to the backcourt and versatility that Curry just didn’t offer last season.

Whiteside has seen his reputation sullied over the past couple of seasons. While he has earned that, he is still a very talented big man. While the team waits for Nurkic to make his return, Whiteside will be a very strong option to start at center.

He has a higher ceiling than Leonard did on last season’s team and is a better option at center than Collins. This also lets Collins play power forward and play more on the perimeter.

That will also help defensively. Whiteside is more fit as a center and someone who can block shots, while Collins is still developing strength, despite reports that he has put on 20 pounds of muscle so far this offseason.

Prediction

Portland will once again be picked to finish towards the bottom of the Western Conference playoff standings by most people. They will once again surpass those expectations. With a healthy Lakers team and the changes the Clippers made, the third seed will be tough.

However, with Lillard and McCollum, this team will hover right around the 50-win mark once again. With a more loaded and balanced Western Conference, making the conference finals again will be tough.

In the postseason, Portland will win at least one playoff series again. Much like last season, the second-round will be tough and will be a series that could go either way.

Lillard will once again make the first or second-team All-NBA and on the bench, Anfernee Simons will become the breakout player that people around the league think he will become. The team will also get the good side of Whiteside, as he is in a contract year and will want teams to have a good opinion of him.

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