In a series expected to be intense 48 minute battles for seven straight games, the nets have swished in favor of the Portland Trailblazers tremendously. Through four games, the Trailblazers have momentum as they lead the Oklahoma City Thunder 3-1. Despite the Trailblazers being a #3 seed and the Thunder ranking #6, the series was expected to go seven games. But, in unexpected fashion, the Trailblazers have dominated in nearly every offensive aspect.
Headed into the series, the Trailblazers lost a key player in center Jusuf Nurkic with a season ending leg fracture. During this series, role players have needed to step up, improve their play immensely, and have delivered thus far. Former Thunder center Enes Kanter has been fantastic, (Damian Lillard’s game one MVP), and forward Al-Farouq Aminu has improved from his regular season stats. What the Trailblazers have is arguably the best back-court in the NBA: Lillard at point guard and shooting guard C.J. McCollum. Assuming they win Tuesday, do the Trailblazers have enough to reach the Western Conference Finals?
They will be slept on against either the San Antonio Spurs or Denver Nuggets, but with Lillard and McCollum’s game being vastly different from the other team’s style of play, they will wreck havoc. Regardless of what team advances, their lack of explosive nature will falter to Portland and the Trailblazers will advance to the Western Conference Finals.
The Trailblazers have the largest chip on their shoulder as they were the #3 last year and embarrassingly swept by the #6 New Orleans Pelicans. This year, Lillard is a different animal (28.8 PPG) and has shot over 40 percent in three of four games this series, whereas he did once last year. Not to mention, Lillard has been a top defender as he averages 2.3 steals per game. As for McCollum, a perfect compliment to Lillard, he is averaging a high 26.3 PPG and an incredible 51.6 percent from the three point line. Here is how those two match-up against the other back-courts:
Spurs: Shooting guard DeMar DeRozan (23.3 PPG) and point guard Derrick White (19.3 PPG)
DeRozan is an elite scorer who can pop off for 30 no problem, and has playoff experience from his Raptors tenure. As for White, his improvement is beyond belief, averaging nearly ten more points from his regular season 9.9 PPG. Also, White is shooting an unreal 64 percent from the field. The combo’s only flaw: no three-point production. “Logo” Lillard and McCollum have undeniable range, making them stronger scoring threats than either. Plus, both are premiere defenders and have one less factor to worry about in defending the long ball. White has been covering Nuggets’ point guard Jamal Murray, who is formidable, but is not in the same category as Lillard and does not have the same playoff experience. The Trailblazers back-court out-performs the Spurs guards any game of the series.
Nuggets: Point guard Murray (17.8) and shooting guard Gary Harris (15.8)
The Nuggets’ offense does not run through their guards like Portland because of their star center Nikola Jokic, which could prove problematic. Defensively, Lillard and McCollum will be able to maintain or decrease the Nuggets’ guard’s game averages, putting pressure on a great, yet inexperienced Jokic to try and produce more buckets. Jokic is an all-around great player, but is not a premiere scorer as he averages 20.5 PPG. Kanter is not on the same level as Jokic, but so far this playoffs, his impact on the game is not measured by noticeable stats. In game four, Kanter had a +16 plus/minus, and with only scoring eight points, his defensive presence is known. Portland’s duo will continue to score 50 plus combined, as well as shut down Murray and Harris, leading the Nuggets to rely more on Jokic.
Portland struggles most from their bench as no player averages more than six points a game. Compared to the Nuggets, their bench production is abysmal (Malik Beasley 11.3 PPG, Torrey Craig 9 PPG, and Monte Morris 8.5 PPG). It’s essential to have players come in and still produce a high level of basketball to give starters a rest. As for the Spurs, they have All-Star center LaMarcus Aldridge, a big man who averages 20.3 PPG. Portland does not have a high scoring option in the post. Unlike the Nuggets, the Spurs have an effective inside and outside scoring presence and will create defensive failures for the Trailblazers. Aldridge and his scoring is the biggest factor against the Trailblazers if they advance.
Up 3-1 against their rival Thunder, Portland is gaining momentum and has the best chance to make it to the Western Conference Finals. The back-court duo in Lillard and McCollum is too talented to be silenced in any game, scoring at will in a variety of ways. The Spurs and Nuggets have areas they can outplay Portland at, but ultimately, both teams cannot slow down the duo. Portland will advance to the WCF for the first time since the 1999-00 season.
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