Trail Blazers 2021-22 Schedule: Top Games, Championship Odds, Record PredictionsAugust 20, 2021
Despite a lot of noise coming from the Portland Trail Blazers' corner of the world, the franchise was surprisingly quiet as it prepared for the 2021-22 season.
All of the discussion and speculation involving the Blazers during the offseason centered around Damian Lillard's future. The six-time All-Star told reporters after a first-round playoff series loss to the Denver Nuggets that "where we are isn't good enough to win a championship."
Even with some apparent frustration, the 31-year-old never went so far as to ask the Blazers for a trade. He is going to be back for a 10th season with the franchise and will be joined by CJ McCollum and Norman Powell as they try to create a path to competing for an NBA title.
The biggest change for Portland came at head coach, with Chauncey Billups taking over for Terry Stotts. This will mark the first head coaching gig for the five-time All-Star. He spent last season as an assistant for Tyronn Lue with the Los Angeles Clippers.
2021-22 Trail Blazers Schedule Details
Season Opener: vs. Sacramento Kings on Oct. 20 (Home)
Championship Odds: +8000 (bet $100 to win $8,000; FanDuel)
vs. Denver Nuggets: First Game on Nov. 14 (Road)
Since Lillard's comments came after the Blazers lost to a Nuggets team that didn't have Jamal Murray or Will Barton available because of injuries, it will be interesting to see how they stack up to the 2021-22 version of Denver.
It's not unreasonable to assume Murray, who tore his ACL against the Golden State Warriors on April 12, won't play at all this season.
While not having the Canadian is going to hurt the Nuggets, their roster talent remains deep and has the ability to make the playoffs in the Western Conference.
Nikola Jokic was named NBA MVP last season. Michael Porter Jr. has a rare ability to score from anywhere on the court. Aaron Gordon is a well-rounded player who does many things well. Barton is a good defensive guard who has shot 37.8 percent from three-point range in the past two seasons combined.
The Nuggets took two out of three meetings with the Blazers in the 2020-21 regular season. Portland's lone win came on the final day of the regular season, when Jokic, Porter and Gordon all played fewer than 17 minutes.
Neither the Blazers nor the Nuggets look like a top-tier team in the Western Conference, but their head-to-head meetings could be a deciding factor between finishing in the top six and fighting for a spot in the play-in tournament.
vs. Los Angeles Lakers: 1st Game on Nov. 6 (Home)
Even though the Los Angeles Lakers' upside is undoubtedly higher than Portland's entering this season, both teams are in a state of transition with a lot of question marks right now.
The Blazers need Lillard to keep playing at an MVP level; McCollum has to play like the All-Star he was at the start of last season before a foot injury kept him out for eight weeks. Jusuf Nurkic's health will also be worth keeping an eye on, but the 26-year-old has averaged a double-double in three of the past five seasons.
Unlike the Blazers, who largely stood pat, the Lakers completely remade their roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Carmelo Anthony, who spent the past two seasons in Portland, signed with Los Angeles, as did Kent Bazemore, Wayne Ellington, Kendrick Nunn and Malik Monk to help with the Lakers' shooting.
Of course, the biggest addition to the roster is Russell Westbrook. He's not someone who is going to help their outside shooting, but the former NBA MVP is going to be tasked with keeping the offense running when James is off the floor.
It will be interesting to see how head coach Frank Vogel handles the Lakers' closing lineups.
Both of these teams are led by two of the best players of this generation. The Lakers are better overall, but we have no idea how this roster will mesh. The Blazers are more stable because we know what their roster looks like together, but their ceiling is limited without at least one major addition.
Without knowing what kind of coach Billups is going to be, it's safe to assume the Blazers will hover around the same spot they have been for the past few seasons.
The high-water mark for the team recently was the 2018-19 campaign when it finished with a 53-29 record during the regular season. It advanced to the Western Conference Finals before being swept by the Golden State Warriors.
That is the last time the Blazers advanced past the first round. The Western Conference doesn't appear to have the one dominant group like that Warriors club from three years ago, but it's very deep with at least nine teams fighting for the top six seeds.
There's also the potential to add to that group of teams if the New Orleans Pelicans improve under first-year head coach Willie Green and the Minnesota Timberwolves' young talent coalesces.
All of this suggests that the path in front of the Blazers is daunting. They have a superstar in Lillard who won't ever back down from a challenge. He has a tall task ahead of him this season, but there are few players in the NBA better equipped to handle the pressure.
Record Prediction: 43-39
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