Trail Mix: Winning Time
The Portland Trail Blazers keep on winning and people keep on talking about them. Since they’re on the road and we’re not, I have a little bit more time to go a little deeper into some things we don’t get to talk about when we’re doing the more day-to-day reporting.
Let’s talk about the playoffs because there is a lot to keep in mind over the next six weeks.
The Blazers are neck and neck with the Dallas Mavericks for the sixth seed in the Western Conference. The Blazers are actually closer to the 5th seeded Grizzlies than they are to the 8th place Houston Rockets. Portland’s playoff odds are looking pretty good now, too. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton wrote that among the four teams that are expected to fight for the bottom three playoff seeds, the Blazers are the most likely to get in.
Wins over the weekend at Chicago and Indiana have given the surging Blazers the best playoff chances of the group, with the Mavericks just behind.
According to Pelton’s article, the Blazers current playoff odds stand at 91.4%. The Grizzlies are almost totally assured to get there with a big cushion and 99.4% playoff probability. The music from “Making The Band: Memphis” has been different but they’ve been getting a lot of radio play despite going an alternative route.
But there’s an outside chance that Dame’s bars may pass them on the charts. The Blazers are three games back of the Grizzlies but thanks to their last second win in Memphis just before the All-Star break, the tiebreaker would come down to conference record. And that currently favors the Blazers, who have played 39 Western Conference and are 23-16. The Grizzlies are currently 20-16 in conference and the Mavericks are currently 21-16.
But before they can worry about that, the Blazers need to win. They have two meetings against Dallas Mar. 20 and Mar. 23 (in Portland). The Blazers need to win both of those games to hold the tiebreaker over the Mavericks and potentially avoid Golden State or San Antonio in the first round.
While the rest of the road trip won’t make a mark on their conference record, the opportunity is there to build more distance between themselves and the teams behind them. The Grizzlies play Sacramento at home tonight, so that probably means the Blazers can’t make up any ground on them even with a win against a tough Celtics team.
It won’t get much easier. According to RealGM.com, the Blazers have the highest remaining opponents winning percentage in the league.
Joe Freeman of The Oregonian is with the Blazers on their road trip and tells an interesting story from a Blazers trip to the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero during their full day in New York.
“On the way there, guys were complaining,” Ed Davis said. “I was one of the guys like, ‘Man, it’s an off day. I wish I could do something else.’ But once I got there, I was like, ‘I’m so glad Coach took us here. I’m happy I got to experience this.'”
Players, coaches and members of the Blazers’ support staff arrived at the museum in the afternoon and split into three groups before wandering around with tour guides for more than 90 minutes. It didn’t take long for any skepticism and irritation to dissolve into intrigue and emotion. At the start of the tour, guides rehashed the events of Sept. 11, 2001 — the hijacked airplanes, the attacks, the turmoil that followed — and then moved on to the history of the World Trade Center, offering before-and-after portraits of the devastation and motives behind the attacks.
I highly suggest reading the whole story where you can see players reflect on how they felt the events of that day as kids and how the trip affected them as adults.
Casey Holdahl of TrailBlazers.com wrote a nice post in light of an Indianapolis reporter’s question that Damian Lillard is doing a Steph Curry impersonation. Curry had the shot of the year the other night, overshadowing Lillard’s first 30-point game without a 3-pointer, and it got me thinking.
The Blazers arrival and the starring role of Lillard that has blown people away. And although I’ve said before I think the NBA should give Lillard Player of the Month for February, if we are basing things just on statistics, you have to give it to Curry. But that doesn’t make what Lillard is doing any less remarkable or less important.
30 in eight of the last nine games, or as my buddy Alex Crawford said today on Dusty and Cam this morning, eight “30-burgers” in the last nine games is something to talk about no matter who else is having a great season. Only DeMarcus Cousins, James Harden and Curry have had more 30-point games.
And in terms of 30-foot game-winners, leave it to Portland to employ the player who made those before it was cool.
One last thing before we get to more links. This was something that came up when I was on Dusty and Cam doing my weekly chat with them on 1080 The Fan. And that was when Cam Cleeland asked me about Meyers Leonard’s play and the match-ups dictating whether he plays.
This is a tough question and there are a few reasons why. First, his shooting brings incredible value, which is even bigger when he is actually hitting his shots. He has also made more of an effort not to let his play be dictated by hitting shots. But it is an unmistakable part of the equation and in certain match-ups, he just won’t fit.
That’s okay. Andrew Bogut is one of the best rim protectors and screen-setters in the NBA but didn’t play in the last two games in the NBA Finals. The Blazers are living in luxury right now that they have a tough choice between giving minutes to two players who have earned it in Leonard and Moe Harkless. But if they played the Warriors in a tomorrow, I’m not sure Leonard gets in the game.
As a competitor, there is no doubt that Leonard wants that challenge. And perhaps in a playoff series where shooting becomes more of a premium, his role will probably increase.
- Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was on The Vertical Podcast with Woj. It was a candid interview and you really got to hear a lot of great stories from Stotts including his CBA days. When the news that Flip Saunders had passed away came out, Stotts was reflective of the bond he and other guys from the CBA have.
- SI.com’s Jeremy Woo wrote a nice piece from Damian Lillard’s big night at MSG and how the Blazers have been molded in his image, something which I said on the radio the other day.
- I did a post off of Zach Lowe’s ESPN column on the Blazers that went up yesterday where he reported that the Blazers are on pace to have the lowest post-up rate ever recorded.
- Sean Highkin and I recorded a new “Bulls vs. Blazers” podcast on Sunday during The Oscars where we had a long-overdue conversation about the Blazers after, of course, talking about Steph.