Blazers

Blazers Bubble Breakdown: Games 5-8

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As of July 17th, 2020, FiveThirtyEight predicts that the Portland Trail Blazers have just a 12% chance of making the playoffs and a <1% of winning the NBA Finals.

They only have eight games to maintain their position at the nine spot for a chance at a play-in. The Memphis Grizzlies maintain a 3.5-game lead over Portland for the eight seed. The Pelicans, Kings, Spurs and Suns are all vying for that 9th seed. With the Grizzlies beginning the bubble with a big lead over Portland, and with four hungry teams on their heels– it is completely understandable that FiveThirtyEight has Portland where they do.

But with the return of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, Portland has a completely different outlook. They’re a hungry team after being swept in the Western Conference Finals last year. Carmelo Anthony and Hassan Whiteside are new additions to the team and have something to prove. Collins and Nurkic are looking to bounce back stronger and better than ever after sitting out this entire season. Damian Lillard is one of the fiercest competitors in this league. The Blazers and their fans believe this team will not only make the playoffs, but have the potential to win an NBA championship.

The last four “regular season” games in the bubble are critical for Portland. Obviously all games are critical at this point, but games five and six are being played back-to-back against two of the toughest teams in the league: The LA Clippers and the Philadelphia 76ers. After the back-to-back, Portland has one day off before facing off against Luka Doncic and the playoff-bound Dallas Mavericks. Their last game is against the Brooklyn Nets on August 13th– the only game Portland is projected to win during this stretch. Here’s part two of the Blazers bubble breakdown:

Game 5 – Los Angeles Clippers — August 8th (10 AM)

  • Win Probability (via FiveThirtyEight): 27%
  • Regular season results
    • Nov. 7th, 2019: L, 107-101
    • Dec. 3rd, 2019: L, 117-97

Prior Games

In the first meeting between these two teams, the Blazers held the Clippers to just 17.4% from the three-point line at Staples Center. The game was close throughout, but the Clippers outscored Portland 37-25 in the fourth quarter. Lou Williams came up huge for LA, notching 26 points and eight assists off the bench. Kawhi Leonard, last year’s Finals MVP, also poured in 27 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Portland’s explosive backcourt combined for 44 points and Hassan Whiteside put up an impressive 17 points and 19 rebounds. The Blazers couldn’t hold on for a win.

When the teams met again less than a month later, the end results were the same. This time it wasn’t as close. The Clippers outscored Portland 56-38 in the second half. Portland managed to contain Williams and Leonard to just 20 points between the two of them. This time, however, Paul George — who missed their first matchup due to injury — and Montrezl Harrell poured in 25 and 26 points respectively. Patrick Patterson added 19 points off the bench, 15 more than his season average of 4.6 per game.

Rematch

Portland undoubtedly has their hands full with this Clipper team. Many people think the Clippers have a very legitimate chance to win a championship this year. The Clippers have two of the most elite wings in basketball in Leonard and George. They also have one of the deepest benches in the league.

Portland has struggled defending against opposing wings. This will be amplified due in this matchup, with Trevor Ariza and Rodney Hood both out. The Blazers’ bench has been abysmal this season too. Where Portland will have an advantage is inside. Nurkic and Collins are both coming back from injury, which helps their lack of depth and gives Portland an advantage on the glass and protecting the rim.

Game 6 – Philadelphia 76ers — August 9th (3:30 PM)

  • Win Probability (via FiveThirtyEight): 25%
  • Regular season results
    • Nov. 2nd, 2019: L, 129-128

Prior Games

The Blazers’ 129-128 loss on their homecourt to the Philadelphia 76ers was one of the most heartbreaking losses this season. Both teams were missing their starting centers due to injury. Portland controlled the tempo for the majority of the game and found themselves up seven with just four minutes left in the game. The next few possessions, they gave up some costly turnovers and the 76ers went up by one point. With 10 seconds on the clock, Damian Lillard blows right by the defense and kicks it out to Anfernee Simons wide open in the corner, and he nails the three. Portland was up by two points with only two seconds left.

Moda Center was celebrating at this point. The 76ers still had two seconds to make something happen. They ran an inbound play for Furkan Korkmaz to get an open three, and he hit it. Blazers lost by just one point in a soul-crushing game on their home floor.

Rematch

It is difficult to predict how the rematch will play out. These teams only met once this season and neither team was at full strength. Philadelphia has had a mediocre season up to this point, but they still have two dynamic superstars in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Even with a healthy Whiteside, Nurkic, and Collins, Embiid is a lot to handle. The 76ers were also one of the best home teams this season, having only lost twice on their home floor. Without a distinct home court advantage in the bubble, it is impossible to say which team has the upper hand in the rematch. Portland won’t have much time to game plan for Philadelphia, however, because they play the Clippers the day before.

Game 7 – Dallas Mavericks — August 11th (2:00 PM)

  • Win Probability (via FiveThirtyEight): 42%
  • Regular season results
    • Oct. 27th, 2019: W, 121-119
    • Jan. 17th, 2020: L, 120-112
    • Jan. 23rd, 2020: L, 133-125

Prior Games

All three of Portland’s matchups against the Dallas Mavericks were high-octane affairs. All three games followed similar trends. For starters, Damian Lillard averaged over 36 points per game. Luka Doncic nearly had a triple-double in every game and averaged over 30 points as well. Both teams played exceptionally well on offense in every game, but the difference was always bench production. In their last meeting, Portland only suited up eight players, one of whom played just 14 minutes.

Meanwhile, the Dallas bench, led by sharpshooters Seth Curry and Tim Hardaway Jr., lit the Blazers up from deep. Dallas managed to shoot over 50% from deep in all three matchups. Portland was able to squeeze out a narrow victory in their first meeting of the season largely due to the stellar play of CJ McCollum. CJ scored 35 points and only missed five shots all game. In the next two matchups, McCollum was either hurt or basically nonexistent. Without McCollum and a multitude of other rotation players, Portland was worn too thin to produce another victory against the Mavericks.

Rematch

The Blazers’ bench woes should officially be over, barring any more injuries. Collins and Nurkic are back, plus Portland now has Carmelo Anthony in the rotation. In addition, Gary Trent Jr. has been a surprising and very necessary piece to their puzzle. With a full rotation, Portland will be very hard to beat.

Dallas is led by sophomore phenom Luka Doncic. In just his second season in the NBA, he is putting up ridiculous averages of 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game. He has the Mavericks currently 7th in the Western Conference and has elevated their offense to the top of the league. His ability to collapse the defense and kick out to open shooters has Dallas scoring quickly and in bunches. They have shooters, depth, a superstar, and a Hall of Fame coach in Rick Carlisle. Portland, however, is hungry for the playoff spot while Dallas is comfortably in 7th. Perhaps the competitive edge of Portland will make the difference in this matchup.

Game 8 – Brooklyn Nets — August 13th (TBD)

  • Win Probability (via FiveThirtyEight): 77%
  • Regular season results
    • Nov. 8th, 2019: L, 119-115

Prior Games

In their one meeting with the Brooklyn Nets this season, Portland managed to give up a combined 67 points to Spencer Dinwiddie and Kyrie Irving. This was one of the first heartbreakers of the season for Portland. Damian Lillard was red-hot and ended with a whopping 60 points. In the end, the lack of depth from the Blazers was too much to overcome.

Lillard’s backcourt mate, CJ McCollum, scored just eight points in 41 minutes. They also lost Rodney Hood early in the game. The Moda Center is typically one of the more difficult arenas for opposing teams to play in, but not this night. Kyrie Irving hit clutch shot after clutch shot.

Despite the heroics of Lillard, Portland still came up short, losing 119-115.

Rematch

This is one of the few matchups that the Blazers should feel very confident with. Brooklyn will be without Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan and Taurean Prince. Meanwhile, Portland will be at (almost) full strength for the first time this season. The Blazers’ size and explosive backcourt will be too much to handle for this makeshift Nets squad.

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About Jason Moore

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