Could the #NBA’s Portland Trailblazers take the OKC Thunder, Spurs in 7 Games?
Portland Trailblazers have a phenomenal start to this NBA season. They’re 23-5 overall, 12-5 in conference play, have a 4-1 division edge and have a 12-3 record on the road and 11-2 record at home (per NBA.com).
The Trailblazers, barring a complete collapse, will be in the playoffs, although it’s too early to predict their seeding (but I’d like to say 2-4 for sure). But, I’ll defer to Grantland’s Zach Lowe on his take on the Trailblazers early this season (and he ranked the Trailblazers as the 4th overall team in the West):
4. Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers are good, but they are not quite as good as their record, and there’s no great shame there. They’ve played the easiest schedule (by a hair) among Western Conference teams, and three of their next four games come against the Clippers, Heat, and Thunder. They’re 22nd in points allowed per possession (tied with the Knicks), one spot behind Milwaukee. Repeat: They are 22nd in defensive efficiency. Translation: They are bad at defense.
Look, Portland is awesome. I love watching them. I have no problem with their 3-point volume or LaMarcus Aldridge jacking midrange jumpers at a record pace. They have the best offense in the league, and it’s not all that close. Damian Lillard is shooting, I think, 4,756 percent in crunch time. It’s just hard to find teams that make deep postseason runs with bottom-10 defenses.
There are some caveats here. Portland’s starting lineup, which has logged more minutes this season than any other five-man group, has allowed just 101.8 points per 100 possessions — equivalent to a borderline top-10 mark, per NBA.com. The team has been a smidgen better with the starting frontcourt of Aldridge and Robin Lopez, and it’s doing just fine on the defensive glass when those two play. C.J. McCollum has yet to suit up.
Portland’s clutch success is also unsustainable. The team is 10-1 in games that have been within three points in the last three minutes, and it has scored 138.5 points per 100 possessions in those situations. It has been damn near perfect on both ends. That never lasts.
This is a really good team, and if you want to slot the Blazers at no. 3, that’s fine. But they don’t belong in the top two, and I have a feeling that when we get through 82 games, we might regard them as no. 5 or no. 6 on this list — better than their internal preseason expectations, by the way.
But, can they take the Oklahoma City Thunder or any other top team in a seven-game series? Let me break down a couple things about that potential matchup:
- Point Guard: Damian Lillard vs. Russell Westbrook
This would be a fabulous matchup to watch! Lillard has hit a couple game-winners lately and shows he is NOT afraid of the spotlight this early in the season. His back-and-forth with Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving just dropped everyone’s jaws, and ended on this note (but Lillard was guarded by Alonzo Gee, not Irving):
Lillard can pass and score and he is quick. Westbrook is more athletic than him and even after his injury, seems to have most of his burst back. I like Lillard, but Westbrook has shown me he’s healthy and still the great talent at the point for the Thunder. I’d give the Thunder a slight edge because of experience and Westbrook’s on-ball defense.
- Shooting Guard: Wesley Matthews vs. Thabo Sefolosha
Wesley Matthews has come a long ways from his athletic-can’t-shoot-a-jumper days at Marquette and with the Utah Jazz. He has improved his shot, but is much better on the open court on fast breaks than in a half-court set. Still, his 16 points per game on 49% shooting (and 43% from three) is not something to overlook.
On the other hand, Thabo is a good defender on the wing and shoots the occasional three-ball. It’d be nice if he contributed more, only scoring a paltry 6.2 points per game, 29% 3-point shooting percentage and only 41% overall from the floor. But, because he is a long defender he will give Matthews trouble. Edge goes to the Thunder.
- Small Forward: Nicolas Batum vs. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant hands-down, do I even need to elaborate why?
- Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Serge Ibaka
Aldridge will win this matchup because he can get you a double-double in points and rebounds, in addition to a couple blocks. No one on the Thunder (except Ibaka) can score and rebound and get a couple of blocks on defense. Ibaka has disappeared in the playoffs, but Aldridge has not had experience of a deep playoff run. I still like Aldridge because he is a better, all-around scorer and in a seven-games series, every bucket counts. I can’t rely on Ibaka to score consistently in a playoff series.
- Center: Robin Lopez vs. Kendrick Perkins
Perkins has become a liability for the Thunder front office, who thought they got a defensive anchor in their lineup a couple years ago. That is not the case. He still is the mad-faced center, but is not the powerful presence he was when he was on the Celtics with a 2.9 points and 3.6 rebounds per game average. Lopez has established himself well in Portland and provides enough for the team to win games with a 9.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. When it comes to rebounding, Robin Lopez gets about 4 offensive and 4 defensive rebounds per game, while Perkins gets only 1 offensive and 2 defensive rebounds per game. I’ll take Robin Lopez by a hair.
The Thunder have Reggie Jackson to backup Westbrook, along with Jeremy Lamb on the wing, Nick Collison to absorb minutes off the bench down low and Derek Fisher can still hit a crucial three here and there. The Trailblazers have untested rookie point guard CJ McCollum (who hasn’t played at all this season) and a plethora of untested talent such as former Cal guard Allen Crabbe, barely-used big man Thomas Robinson (former lottery pick from Kansas), heralded prospect Meyers Leonard and an old Mo Williams and Earl Watson. I’ll take the Thunder bench.
I’d say that the Thunder wins either in 5 (especially if they’re at home). If they’re on the road, that could be a 6 or 7 game series, but the Thunder should win out over the upstart Trailblazers. They have just enough defense and a lot of offense to power past the Trailblazers in the playoffs, if it comes to that.