Alvin Gentry: Blazers Have More Around Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum This Year

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2019

PORTLAND, OR - DECEMBER 19:  CJ McCollum #3 and Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers look on against the Memphis Grizzlies on December 19, 2018 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 2018 NBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)
Sam Forencich/Getty Images

One year after his New Orleans Pelicans swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs, Pels head coach Alvin Gentry believes the Blazers are a far better team.

According to Jason Quick of The Athletic, Gentry expressed his belief that the Portland front office has managed to put more talent around guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum this season: "I still think you have to try and get the ball out of Dame and CJ's hands, but it's a little bit different now that they have added Rodney Hood to the mix, and even [Enes] Kanter. With those two guys, they have really improved their team. ...They have more weapons."

Lillard and McCollum are still Portland's top two offensive options, but opposing teams can no longer focus solely on them.

Center Jusuf Nurkic has taken a big step forward this season and is performing near an All-Star level with averages of 15.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.4 blocks per game. The Blazers have also seen improvement from the likes of Jake Layman, Zach Collins and Maurice Harkless, which gives them more versatility than most NBA teams.

Portland didn't make a huge splash around the trade deadline, but it did add quality center depth in the form of Kanter and a capable shooter in Hood who can help supplement Lillard and McCollum.

The Blazers entered play Saturday with a record of 42-26, which puts them fourth in the Western Conference. If the regular season were to end today, they would have a tough first-round playoff matchup against an Oklahoma City Thunder team led by Russell Westbrook and Paul George.

While the Blazers are set to reach the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, they have yet to make it past the second round during that stretch and haven't won a playoff series since 2016.

Getting out of the first round in the stacked Western Conference won't be easy, but since their depth is unmatched by almost any other team in the NBA, the Blazers may have the best chance to make a dark-horse run in a Western Conference that has been dominated by the Golden State Warriors for a half-decade.   

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