It's the most wonderful time of the year! No, we're not talking about the holiday season. We're talking about playoff season! The Portland Trail Blazers finished the regular season as the No.3 team in the Western Conference, setting them up for a matchup with the No.6 Oklahoma City Thunder. Oklahoma City swept the Blazers this season, but it was just last season that the Blazers swept the Thunder. Who will win this epic matchup in the first round? The Blazers Outsiders give us their predictions:
JOE SIMON: The longer I sit with this matchup, the more I believe the Blazers will win. Even though they come into this series riding a 10-game playoff losing streak, Portland finds themselves in the unique position of playing with house money. The Nurk injury leaves them unencumbered by expectations. If they lose, meh, they were without their best player. If the Thunder lose? Woof. Russell Westbrook is a number hungry weirdo who can’t win with KD or Harden. Remember, OKC is yet to win a playoff series since Durant left to chase titles and fight with Draymond.
A few national media members have picked Portland to make the Western Conference Finals. I’m in. LET’S DO THIS! Blazers beat the Thunder in 6, and hopefully stare down LA and the Spurs in Round 2. Maybe it’s Rose City colored glasses, but who cares. If you can’t be optimistic about this team, after all the overachieving and battling through injuries, when will you be?
Blazers in 6.
ALEX HAIGH: Have you guys seen Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey? The movie where a cat and two dogs get lost in the woods and have to find their way back to that dorky-ass Seaver family? Along the way, Chance gets quilled by a porcupine, Sassy goes over a waterfall and nearly drowns, and Shadow falls into a muddy pit and injures his leg. Well, I’m sorry but the Trail Blazers are these three animals, which makes Rip City the dorky-ass Seaver kids (by the way, the father in this movie is an alarming amalgamation of Rob Huebel and Bob Saget- I just had to point that out.) We’ve been injured, we’ve been counted out, we’ve had some losing streaks; but have you seen the ending? When the adults have given up and decided to ignore their problems by living in a perpetually autumn Nantucket-like setting, the kids hold onto the hope that their best friends will still make it home- and they do. Chance comes up over the hill, and then Sassy. After a dramatic pause, Shadow is seen hobbling toward the family, favoring his injured leg but still gunning for home. I’m holding out for that ending. The one where all of the adversity we’ve been through has only made us stronger and given us the motivation to push through to the second round. I think we win this series in seven games. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go watch Homeward Bound again.
JAKE MCGRADY: I'm gonna keep this short and sweet... Portland in 7. Book it. This is going to be an absolute DOG FIGHT, and I am 100% here for it. Don't get me wrong, Russ and PG are monsters and OKC is nothing to take lightly, but I just have this feeling that Damian is going to go ballistic this series. Yes we don't have Nurk, yes Kanter struggles on defense, I get it. However, it can't be ignored that PG's shoulder could pose a big problem for the Thunder in these coming weeks. When you compare this three seed team to last year's three seed team, even without Nurkic I say that we are FAR better. The additions of Seth Curry and Hood alongside the performances from Evan Turner as of late have made all the difference. There is no shot in hell that we get swept a third year in a row. Also, Damian hasn't faced anyone in the playoffs yet that he TRULY dislikes and has a history with. This series will be defined by a Russ vs Dame showdown, and I think it lights a whole new fire under Dame. Let the fun begin.
CHRIS BURKHARDT: I've said it before and I'll say it again, the Thunder are beatable. Everyone wants to point to Paul George and Russell Westbrook, two elite scorers in the NBA. Well, Portland happens to have to elite scorers as well in CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard. The star duos will do everything they can to lead their respective teams to victory. However, it will be the role players that decide this series. Can guys like Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless, Seth Curry, and Evan Turner outplay guys like Dennis Schroder, Terrance Ferguson, and Jerami Grant? I think so. Even without Jusuf Nurkic, the Blazers have played well. Sure, Oklahoma City went 4-0 against the Blazers this season, but they won those four games by a combined 28 points. That's an average of just seven points per contest. It was a close series all season and it will be a close series in the playoff. There is no way the Thunder go 8-0 against the Blazers. My pick, Blazers win the series in six.
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