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Trail Blazers 2019-20 Schedule: Top Games, Championship Odds, Record Predictions

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistAugust 12, 2019

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 21: Damian Lillard #0 and CJ McCollum #3 of the Portland Trail Blazers look on during Game Four of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 21, 2019 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 2019 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

A year after reaching the Western Conference Finals, the Portland Trail Blazers are basically running it back for the 2019-20 season.

The West is shaping up to be a lot more open as the Golden State Warriors grapple with Kevin Durant's departure and Klay Thompson's torn ACL. That's likely why Blazers general manager Neil Olshey opted for smaller additions to the roster rather than a drastic transformation.

If anything, Olshey doubled down on the current core by agreeing to a four-year, $196 million supermax contract with Damian Lillard. CJ McCollum has a new three-year, $100 million extension that will kick in starting in 2021.

Portland's sweep at the hands of the Warriors showed how far the team was from seriously challenging Golden State. But the West no longer has a squad clearly head and shoulders better than the rest.

That leaves the Blazers with their best shot in recent memory of pulling off an NBA Finals run.

          

2019-20 Details

Season Opener: Oct. 23 vs. Denver Nuggets

Championship Odds: 22-1 (via Caesars)

Full Schedule: NBA.com

        

Top Matchups

Houston Rockets (first meeting: Nov. 18)

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 9: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets drives past Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 9, 2019 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, OK. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
Jeff Haynes/Getty Images

Lillard delivered one of the lasting images of the 2019 postseason when he waved goodbye to the Oklahoma City Thunder—inadvertently telegraphing how the offseason would unfold for Oklahoma City.

Lillard outplayed Russell Westbrook in that first-round series, averaging 33.0 points and 6.0 assists while shooting 48.1 percent from three-point range.

Now, Westbrook is a member of the Houston Rockets, and thus he could be in a position to gain a measure of revenge against Lillard and Portland.

The Rockets and Blazers represent the diverging approaches for how to handle a series of playoff disappointments.

Portland never broke up the partnership of Lillard and McCollum despite failing to get out of the second round and was rewarded with last year's conference finals run.

Houston traded Chris Paul to the Thunder for Westbrook rather than give it another go following a second-round exit to the Warriors. Daryl Morey's mindset seems to be to get as many stars as possible and figure out the rest later.

Rather than just a referendum on the contrasting team-building strategies of Olshey and Morey, this will be a fun matchup pitting two of the NBA's best backcourts.

        

Denver Nuggets (first meeting: Oct. 23)

PORTLAND, OREGON - MAY 05: Jamal Murray #27 speaks with teammate Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets during the second half of game four of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center on May 05, 2019 in Portland,
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

The Denver Nuggets were one win away from the Western Conference Finals before the Blazers took Games 6 and 7 in the second round. Nuggets players probably won't have forgotten that when they face off with Portland for the first time this season.

In general, this series is fun because it pits two smaller-market franchises at differing stages of contention against one another. Denver is where Portland was six years ago, when the Blazers won 54 games and advanced to the conference semifinals.

We know how that worked out in the Pacific Northwest, but the Nuggets can learn from the Blazers' mistakes.

Accounting for Jamal Murray's five-year, $169.5 million extension, Denver has the trio of Murray, Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris signed through 2021. That gives the front office some time to see what this roster can achieve before making a significant move or two.

Leaving the big-picture stuff aside, these teams finished a game apart from one another and will be direct rivals for a top-four seed.

         

Record Prediction

PORTLAND, OR - MAY 20: Rodney Hood #5 of the Portland Trail Blazers and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors look on during Game Four of the Western Conference Finals on May 20, 2019 at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User exp
Sam Forencich/Getty Images

The Blazers have reached the playoffs in six straight seasons, and 2012-13 was the last time they posted a losing record. Barring an injury to a key player, Portland has a baseline in terms of expectations: Make the postseason and push 50-plus wins.

However, it's fair to wonder whether the Blazers have taken a step backward based on how the offseason unfolded.

Seth Curry, Jusuf Nurkic, Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu finished first, third, fourth and seventh on the team, respectively, in defensive rating, per NBA.com. Nurkic is still recovering from his compound leg fractures, while Curry, Harkless and Aminu are gone.

Hassan Whiteside is a downgrade from Nurkic, and neither Kent Bazmore nor Mario Hezonja provides the kind of perimeter defending Harkless and Aminu did. Although the Blazers' starting five remains very good for the most part, their supporting cast is arguably worse.

Portland does have a few variables that could allow the team to exceed expectations. Zach Collins could improve significantly with a larger role in the frontcourt. Rodney Hood is opening the season with the team and thus won't have to adjust to new surroundings on the fly. In a contract year, Whiteside might be motivated to get one more big deal in what looks like a lackluster free-agent class.

Anywhere from 42 to 55 victories is a reasonable prediction for this team. The lower end of the spectrum is the likelier landing spot.

Prediction: 43-39