By Nicolas Nerli
As the NBA regular season approaches its end, the Portland Trail Blazers rank third in the Western Conference, an achievement largely made possible through significant performance improvements. Within the last several weeks, the Trail Blazers have defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder, the New Orleans Pelicans, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies, all of which are considerable conference rivals. ESPN, Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports have published recent power rankings with the Trail Blazers among the top five NBA teams, a promising sign that Portland is increasing its likelihood to appear in the NBA Championship. Ultimately, Coach Terry Stotts has improved the playing talent of the Trail Blazers, prompting Portland to have a substantial and opportunistic season.
Though the Trail Blazers may not be the favorite to win the NBA Championship, sports betting websites have greatly boosted the position of Portland as the regular season closes. Bovada, one of the sites, this week ranked the Trail Blazers as seventh most likely to win the NBA Championship, raising odds from 350 – 1 to 40 – 1. In the Western Conference, Portland’s odds to come out on top jumped from 100 – 1 to 25 – 1, a fourth place position behind the Golden State Warriors, the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Portland’s rankings shifts in the Western Conference and the entire NBA occurred in a single month, and both bounces are considered immensely profound in such a short time period.
Numerous players for the Trail Blazers have received notable press coverage and awards throughout recent weeks. Between March 26 and April 1, point guard Damian Lillard was named Western Conference Player of the Week, the third time he has received the award this NBA season. During this time period, Lillard had the NBA’s highest scoring average at 28.3 points, along with an average of 6.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists. In their most recent rankings report, ESPN specifically noted forward Al-Farouq Aminu’s 3-point corner shots. Aminu is the NBA’s sixth-highest 3-point corner shooter, achieving an average success rate of 48.3 percent among players that have made at least 75 shots throughout the season. Jusuf Nurkic, a popular social media presence and reliable Portland center, has obtained mixed performance reviews during the season, but remains a staple of Coach Stotts’ player lineup.
The Trail Blazers, in the midst of their best competition this season, have experienced a number of recent injuries that threaten the team’s current trajectory toward success. Forward Maurice Harkless is recovering from surgery to his left knee and told a reporter from The Oregonian that his return to the court could be anywhere from 10 days to six weeks. Ed Davis is expected to be out for one to two weeks due to a sprained ankle, an injury that jeopardizes the powerful duo of Davis and Zach Collins. Both players have performed excellently throughout the season, and together they form a dynamic and energetic twosome that exemplifies each individual’s strengths and covers one another’s weaknesses. Heading into the NBA playoffs, Portland must build and maintain an aggressive team if there is any chance of bringing an NBA Championship title to Moda Center.
On April 1, the Campus Activities Board hosted LC Night at the Portland Trail Blazers, an effort to send an LC fan group to the team’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies. Portland defeated Memphis 113 – 98, illustrating the Trail Blazers’ growing dominance in the Western Conference. In the coming days, Portland is scheduled to play the San Antonio Spurs, the Denver Nuggets and the Utah Jazz before wrapping up the regular season. If the Trail Blazers continue on their track of strong performance until the end of the season, many athletic analysts predict that Portland will have a successful appearance in the NBA playoffs.