Can the Portland Trail Blazers Really Win the West?

Andrew WatkinsCorrespondent IDecember 29, 2013

PORTLAND, OR - DECEMBER 21:  Damian Lillard #0 and LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the Portland Trail Blazers smile after the game against the New Orleans Pelicans on December 21, 2013 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)
Sam Forencich/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers have been one of, if not, the biggest surprises of the NBA in 2013. They’ve gone from a sub-.500 squad who closed out last season on a 13-game losing streak to among the best in the NBA.

In fact, before a thrilling one-point loss to the Miami Heat last night, the Blazers were tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Indiana Pacers for the best record in the NBA.

Heading into this season, many anticipated that the Blazers would prove a more formidable adversary. They returned the NBA’s 2013 Rookie of the Year in Damian Lillard as well as All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who’s just now hitting his prime.

Nonetheless, it’s doubtful that many outside of Oregon would spot them among the best teams in the Western Conference coming into the year. But that’s exactly where the Blazers sit as the season nears its midway point.

That being said, the toughest tests facing the Blazers still lie ahead. Playoffs-tenured squads like the Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs will undoubtedly challenge Portland. And that’s where things get interesting.

The Blazers haven’t won a postseason series since 2000, so can they really challenge for an NBA title this year?

In spite of their inexperience in big-game situations, I think the answer’s undoubtedly “yes”.

For one, the Blazers boast a slew of talented marksmen. This year, the Blazers set a franchise-record by draining 21 three-pointers in a December win over the Philadelphia 76ers, just two off the NBA’s all-time mark.

Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Dorell Wright and Mo Williams are all hitting over .350 from the three-point line. And even when their shots aren’t falling, they can rely on Robin Lopez and MVP candidate Aldridge to get the boards and give them another chance.

That is, if Aldridge doesn’t finish the play himself.

Most regular title contenders have at least one MVP candidate. Names like Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James come to mind, and now it appears that the Blazers have found their franchise player.

Aldridge leads the team in scoring and rebounding and ranks seventh in the NBA in both categories as well. The only other player who ranks in the top 10 in both categories this year is Kevin Love.

The biggest evidence that suggests the Blazers can excel in the postseason, however, is their performance in big games thus far. The Blazers hold victories over the Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers and fell a Chris Bosh buzzer-beater short of toppling the Heat on Saturday.

Sure, the Heat was without James, but a year ago that probably wouldn’t have made a difference. Just the fact that the Blazers had the Heat on the ropes throughout that contest serves as a testament to how far they’ve come.

And don’t be surprised if it’s the Trail Blazers who are challenging for an NBA title once May comes around.