The 2014 NBA playoffs are just around the corner, with only a few teams vying to nab the few remaining spots in each conference.
While the Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks battle for the last two seeds in the West and the New York Knicks make a desperate attempt to dislodge the Atlanta Hawks from the No. 8 seed in the East, most teams are on cruise control and just hoping to grind out the rest of the 2013-14 campaign without suffering any injuries.
Let’s take a look at the latest standings, plus take a peek at the odds for each potential contender to win it all and make a bold prediction on how the postseason could shake out this year for one team.
ESPN and NBA.com
|San Antonio Spurs||3-1|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||9-2|
|Los Angeles Clippers||8-1|
|Golden State Warriors||20-1|
|Portland Trail Blazers||40-1|
|New York Knicks||150-1|
Pretender Not Worth Betting On: Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers were one of the greatest success stories of the 2013-14 campaign, but it appears that this team’s return to the playoffs will not last very long.
Up until a few months ago, Portland boasted one of the league’s top offenses and was sitting atop the Western Conference standings. However, the club has suffered a noticeable decline and has gone just 3-13 against potential playoff opponents in the conference since Jan. 1.
One major reason for this drop in production is that the team’s bench, once outperforming expectations, has regressed into a below-average unit. Poor play from the pine was one of the Trail Blazers’ biggest issues last year and is returning to haunt them in 2013-14.
Another issue is their overreliance on the three-point shot, something that can carry college teams on a deep tournament run but isn’t usually the answer to navigate through a string of seven-game series.
The Blazers have hoisted 1,999 treys (as of Thursday, April 10), the third-highest mark in the league. While they hit them at a 37.0 percent clip, it is going to be tougher to get that done when defenses tighten up, in-depth scouting reports are built specifically for each opponent and game plans are dedicated solely to stopping the things Portland does best.
SI’s Rob Mahoney described why Portland has been ineffective against the top teams in its conference:
More efficient offenses have outscored the Blazers since their scoring dip. Stingy defenses have controlled the game by channeling the Blazers toward less desirable shots. And those teams — like Houston — with the personnel and commitment to make Portland beat them one-on-one have limited even what the Blazers do best.
Even if Rip City sees its reserves lose significant amounts of minutes, they still don’t have an answer if the three-pointer isn’t going down. Those are issues that Sacramento Kings head coach Mike Malone outlined when discussing Portland’s chances this spring, as per Mike Tokito of The Oregonian:
The biggest, I think, question mark with the Trail Blazers is their bench, and if they get in foul trouble. They've got Mo Williams and they've got Dorell (Wright) and Thomas Robinson, but how effective can their bench be?
And obviously, they rely on the three-point shot so much. If the three-point jumper is not going, can they go to something else to carry them offensively?
While the Blazers have a few legit stars in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, neither has ever advanced out of the first round and Lillard, in his second year in the NBA, has yet to even experience a postseason contest.
How far will Portland go in the playoffs?
It’ll be tough to bet on these two unproven commodities making a deep foray during the playoffs, especially considering how strong the West is. More experienced teams will feast on any mistakes made by the Blazers could sweep a first-round series should Portland fail to hit its threes.
Don’t bet on the Blazers to advance far this spring, as they just don’t have the experience or type of game plan required to make a run against this level of competition.