The Portland Trail Blazers have easily exceeded their season expectations with 26 games still left to be played. Coming into the 2015-16 NBA season, the Portland organization decided to blow their roster up due to the exit of LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency. The franchise decided to trade their starting small forward at the time, Nicolas Batum, and their starting shooting guard, Wes Matthews, left in the offseason. Essentially, Damian Lillard was all that was left when the dust cleared. The Trail Blazers point guard of the future and the current franchise centerpiece was forced into taking on a larger role with all of the offseason departures. Lillard had to carry this team on his back if they wanted any chance at playoff contention in the Western Conference. As great as he has been for Portland, it is not just him that has the Trail Blazers in a position to make some noise in the West, Lillard is getting help from the others around him. From the coaching performance of Terry Stotts to the emergence of C.J. McCollum, everyone has stepped up to the challenge and they have avoided any chance of becoming irrelevant. The Portland Trail Blazers are coming together at the right time and have positioned themselves to perhaps shock the world.
When it comes to “shocking the world”, the Trail Blazers can do so by bringing their new style of play to the Western Conference postseason. They have proved they can beat some elite teams with 30+ point wins over the Cavaliers at Cleveland and the Golden State Warriors. Although playoff talk for Portland may be premature, they are fortunate that the West looks weaker than the past couple of seasons. The Trail Blazers currently hold the seventh spot, but they are fighting with the Rockets and Jazz for the lower spots in the postseason. There are still a lot of games to be played, but one has to put their money on the Trail Blazers to advance because of the glimpses of what they are capable of and their recent plays. As mentioned earlier, they have beaten some of the elite teams and the Trail Blazers have won nine out of their last ten with no signs of stopping. The question is, “How are they doing this with only one starter remaining from last year?” The answer begins with Terry Stotts.
The head coach for the Portland Trail Blazers, Terry Stotts, has been criticized in the past for not playing his young players and developing them the way he should. Stotts’ hand was forced this season to not only play his young players, but heavily rely on the team’s youth to be successful. He has done a masterful job thus far this season. The players on the roster seem to respond positively to his coaching and his leadership has the team believing they can beat anyone at any given time. Terry Stotts has transformed a roster which was believed to be doomed from the start into one of the NBA’s top offenses. The Blazers rank 8th in points per game at 103.1 and 7th in offensive rating with 107.1 points scored per 100 possessions. Their defense is not the worst in the league, as they rank somewhere in the middle of the league by allowing 102 points per game to the opposition. The numbers on the defensive end are not the best, but their effort night in and night out has been tremendous. They are willing to work on both ends of the floor. Portland can pick up the tempo with their young, fresh legs and scrap on defense to force their opponents to turn the ball over. The Trail Blazers are fourth in total rebounding and third in three pointers made. They know what they are good at and hang their hat on those aspects along with their willingness to fight on either end.
The other elements to the Trail Blazers success that align with the great leadership of Terry Stotts are the play of the starting backcourt. Damian Lillard (24.9 ppg) and C.J. McCollum (20.7 ppg) are one of the highest scoring tandems in the entire NBA. They also combine for 11.6 assists per game between the two. Many anticipated McCollum to play better with an increase in minutes, but even C.J. is playing better than what the fans and analysts expected. He has really helped Lillard manage the game offensively and is a big reason the Trail Blazers are fighting for the playoffs. The other players that fill out the Blazers’ roster are playing well. The likes of Allen Crabbe, Gerald Henderson, and Al-Farouq Aminu give the backcourt good options on the wing and the big men of Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard, and Mason Plumlee are doing the much needed dirty work. It is amazing to watch this team fight for everything and how they haven’t threw away their season despite losing a lot of talent in the offseason.
The Portland Trail Blazers have a chance to make the Western Conference playoffs this season. That sentence was not even thought about entering the 2015-16 NBA season. However, due to the amazing coaching of Terry Stotts and his trust in his improving, young roster they can now be confident in the final home stretch of the season. The Trail Blazers have the belief of a winner and have the makings of a team that can surprises a lot of people. Making the playoffs is one thing, but the rest of the Western Conference can no longer overlook the Trail Blazers, especially if your the team that has to play them in the first round. They have already exceeded expectations, but now is for the next step. Portland can continue this level of play and maybe, just maybe shock the rest of the NBA.