The Portland Trail Blazers are heading for the playoffs for the first time in the post-Brandon Roy era. In a season that has exceeded expectations, fans are finally going to taste what it's like to play meaningful games in the spring.
However, the Blazers' work is far from over. They still need to determine whom they will be playing in the first round of the playoffs.
Luckily for Portland, it still control its destiny. The Blazers are currently in fifth place in the Western Conference, and with six games remaining they could finish anywhere from fourth to eighth.
So who exactly should the Blazers hope to play in the first round? Who should they want to avoid? What team seems most likely to be their matchup?
Here is a breakdown of a few of the potential teams the Blazers could be playing.
If the playoffs began today, this would be the team that Portland would be playing. And if this doesn't terrify you, then it might be prudent to check your pulse.
On the one hand, there is the potential that this team will lack cohesion. This is their first season with Dwight Howard manning the middle and Kevin McHale is still somewhat of a young coach with little experience in the playoffs.
Another potential plus is that they are built similarly to the Blazers. They score a ton (third in the league at 106.8 points per game) and are only a middle-of-the-road defensive team (17th at 102 PPG).
They are a good rebounding team (fourth at 45.1 per game), but then again, so are the Blazers (first at 46.3 RPG).
In the playoffs, two things are crucial. First, a team needs to be able to score in the half court; fast-break points always go down this time of year. And second, a team needs to be able to defend in the half court. The game always slows down, and teams that can get stops as well as score in a myriad of ways will usually be the team that wins games.
During the regular season, the Rockets won three of four contests with the Blazers. Each game was won by a team that scored at least 111 points. In truth, nobody could stop anybody, especially at guard.
The Rockets and Blazers are both known for lower-than-average perimeter defense, and that was especially true in these games. They really turned into games that resembled an All-Star Game more than a playoff game.
This seems very unlikely to continue.
Portland has the advantage at power forward, as LaMarcus Aldridge and his versatile offensive game is built for the playoffs. He can score in the pick-and-roll, on the perimeter and with his back to the hoop down low.
There isn't anybody on this Rockets team that can stop him.
But the Rockets have a similar advantage in James Harden. Their shooting guard has emerged as the best in the league and enjoyed huge success this year against Portland.
Harden averaged 30.3 points to go along with 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists. The Blazers have no answer for Harden and will have to try to force the ball out of his hands through double-teams and stunts.
But the X-factor in this series could be how the benches fare. The Blazers had a solid if unspectacular bench this season after last year's train wreck. The Rockets found their niche by using Jeremy Lin off the pine, and he has become a very effective piece of their success.
A player the Blazers will have to keep their eye on is Omer Asik. Asik has come alive in the last week, with rebounding games of 11, 23 and 15.
Overall, it seems like this could be the most entertaining series of the few that seem likely. Both teams seem to have the same strengths and weaknesses.
Of the three teams profiled here, this may be the one that Portland should hope for.
The Los Angeles Clippers are a very dangerous team and one that most teams would fear tremendously in the first round of the playoffs.
However, where the Clippers have their strengths, the Blazers feature a similar cast.
During the regular season, these two teams were also in shootouts, with the winning squad scoring at least 116 points. Portland won the first game and the Clippers won the second.
Again, that isn't likely to continue in the playoffs, but it should be noted.
In both games, Griffin and Paul went off for the Clippers. For Portland, Aldridge had two great games, while the Blazers relied on a much more balanced attack overall.
The Clippers, again, are built like Portland, scoring a ton while playing just solid defense. They certainly could be susceptible to a balanced scoring attack like the one Portland features, and the rebounding edge should be with the Blazers.
But two things make the Clippers very scary.
First, their bench. They have a number of players that can come off the pine and contribute meaningful minutes. And most importantly, these are players like Davis, Granger and Jamal Crawford who have playoff experience and veteran savvy.
Second, Paul's experience should not be shortchanged. He has been to the playoffs five seasons and is the best leader on both squads.
While the Blazers shouldn't lay awake at night fearing this team, they should at least be mindful that this could be a very tough series.
It probably wouldn't be a sweep, but the Blazers would have their hands full with the Clips.
While the Blazers certainly shouldn't be petrified of the first two potential matchups, they really should be here.
Luckily, this seems like the least likely matchup given that Portland currently is battling for the fourth seed and Oklahoma City is shooting for the second. The Clippers could catch the Thunder, and the Blazers could slip. This could still happen.
The Thunder are a problem for Portland in many ways. First, this team has been playing together for a while and have had some long playoff runs. Compared to a Blazers team that most thought wouldn't make the playoffs, they have drastically different expectations.
The Thunder have one of the top two players in the game in Kevin Durant. Durant will be a nightmare for Portland to contain. Nicolas Batum is a solid defender, but Durant has lit him up to the tune of 38.6 points per contest this year.
Russell Westbrook is also a player that should scare the Blazers, as his athleticism and quickness make him a nearly impossible matchup for Damien Lillard.
Down low, the Thunder have solid bigs who can disrupt Aldridge, if even just slightly.
The biggest problem for Portland is that the Thunder have shown that they can lock them down when they need to. The Thunder can score in the half court, on the break and from the perimeter. They don't have great post players offensively, but they make up for that with their ability to slash.
Portland split the season series with the Thunder, but Westbrook only played in one of those games.
For all intents and purposes, the Blazers would probably be swept should they meet the Thunder.
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