The Portland Trail Blazers have been below the eight-seed for most of 2019. Now on a winning run, what do they need to do to stay in the playoff race?
It’s taken most of the season but the Portland Trail Blazers are now back in the playoff race. They are now only missing three players with long-term injuries and have been able to get a strong starting five on the floor who have challenged their other Western rivals in the new year.
The addition of Trevor Ariza in combination with the fitness of CJ McCollum, and the massive months of Hassan Whiteside and Damian Lillard have pushed them to win 8 of their last 13 games. In this last eight wins though, they have importantly beaten five strong playoff teams.
Now with a 25 and 29 record and two games out of the playoffs, what do they need to do to make the playoffs from here on out?
The games prior to the All-star break are key for this team. With some big minute loads and a tough stretch against strong teams the last few weeks, this team will earn a break after playing other west playoff hopefuls in the Memphis Grizzlies and the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Pelicans game should be a gimme. Though they are improved since the return of rookie sensation Zion Williamson, the Pelicans aren’t the calibre of the other teams the Blazers have beaten recently.
The Grizzlies matchup is the last game before the All-star break and with the Grizzlies in the 8-seed, if the Blazers won this game and beat the Pelicans then they would only be half a game behind the Grizzlies at the break.
This would put the Blazers in a direct foot race with the Grizzlies for the rest of the season. The Blazers importantly have had the third toughest schedule of the season so far. This is a good sign for the rest of the year.
The rest of the month the opponents are the Pelicans again, the Detroit Pistons, the Boston Celtics, and the Indiana Pacers. They have to go at least .500 in this stretch, but to really stay in touch in this month they need to win four out of the six remaining games in February. With the quality of opponents, this shouldn’t be too difficult.
March is a month which will decide the Blazers playoff fortunes. The schedule is cushy to say the least where they have 8 of 15 games against non-playoff teams, with a game each also against the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic. If they win two or three of the other five games against strong opponents, one from the Nets or Magic and then six of eight against the weak teams this would be nine of fifteen for the month.
This would place them firmly in the eight seed unless the Grizzlies went on an unlikely run. Winning nine of this stretch could also put pressure on the Oklahoma City Thunder who are in the seventh seed. It doesn’t take a lot of losses to drop a seed or two. The Thunder are only seven wins ahead of the Blazers at this point.
The Blazers have their playoff destiny in their hands now. We wont detail the April schedule as the Blazers chances will probably be decided in March. With plenty of games against weaker opponents they can make the playoffs, and maybe even push for the seven seed. They have a strong starting five and will add Jusuf Nurkic off the bench in the next month too.
Even with the injury issues they have had they are still in the hunt. If they can make the postseason they will have some reinforcements on the way as well.