In the NBA’s Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets are the hands-down the favorites to make it to the NBA Finals. But the team that everybody should have their eyes on should be the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers, led by arguably the best backcourt in the entire NBA in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, have been playing lights out since the All-Star break. With these two stars, the Blazers will be able to compete with just about anyone they may match up with in the playoffs. The Blazers have been playing outstanding basketball as of late, posting a 15-3 record since the all-star break (with a very impressive 12 game winning streak to add to their resume). Lillard and McCollum have posted outstanding numbers, both average more than 20 points a game and rank in the top 25 scorers in the entire league. This duo can match any duo that the Warriors or Rockets can throw out there.
Not only do they have a fantastic backcourt, but the players behind them really make a difference in their playoff chances. Jusuf Nurkic makes a significant impact on both ends of the floor, providing a rim protecting big man and he is a tenacious rebounder. His 14.3 PPG and 8.7 REB rank among the best big men in the game. Evan Turner and Mo Harkless provide very solid swingman options that can put up buckets in bunches and defend in their own end very well. With Turner on the floor with the starting lineup, they are plus 11 points per 100 possessions. With Harkless playing with the starting lineup, they are a plus 7.5 points per 100 possessions. Both are interchangeable pieces that can be plugged in wherever they may be needed.
Their bench also boasts some very nice pieces of its own; Shabazz Napier has quietly made an impact and Ed Davis has also given Portland tremendous depth in the frontcourt. They consistently rank in the top-10 in most major advanced stats categories, showing off that they are an efficient group of ball players. But the area where they have exceeded expectations greatly has been on the defensive end of the floor. When you think of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, you do not necessarily think of defense. But recently, they have stepped up in a major way. Their defense has won them multiple games down the stretch, which is needed to stop the high octane offenses of those teams the Blazers are trying to beat.
This entire Blazers team is a lot better than most people give them credit for. Playing in the small market of Portland and being overshadowed by historically good teams like the Warriors and Rockets will do that. This should only motivate this young, hungry team even more. These guys are legit, they posses the ability and have an opportunity to show the entire NBA why they should be regarded among the NBA's elite.