OAKLAND – I haven’t found many people outside of Charles Barkley willing to say that the Portland Trail Blazers have even a small chance of upsetting the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals, which begin this evening in Oracle Arena.
Make no mistake, the Trail Blazers are heavy underdogs to what have become the perennial NBA champions.
But does that mean Portland can’t win? No. It does not. But the Blazers will need help.
From the Warriors.
Let’s face it – if Golden State comes out and throws its very best games at Portland, the Trail Blazers are going to have a very difficult time sticking around. And the Blazers are going to have to play at a high level to stay with the powerful Warriors.
But in the playoffs, teams don’t always play at their highest level. Stuff happens. And the pressure, which often sits more heavily on the favorite than the underdog, can have an impact.
Take Portland’s previous series, against the Denver Nuggets.
Denver had the seventh game at home, where about 80 percent of the time the home team wins. Denver had a 17-point lead in the first half. Portland went 4-26 from three-point range. Damian Lillard went 3-17 from the field.
Yet, with all that, the Trail Blazers won the game 100-96. And it wasn’t, quite obviously, due to how fantastic Portland played in the deciding game.
Denver shot just 29.2 percent from the field in the fourth quarter and missed all six of its three-point tries. A good many of those shots were wide open. The Nuggets just missed them.
For the series, Denver made just 33 percent of its three-point shots – something you certainly wouldn’t expect from Golden State, a historically great shooting team from distance.
But again, stuff happens. Perhaps the Trail Blazers are a team of destiny that will confound the experts all the way to a championship. And with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in the lineup, anything is possible.
Kevin Durant is not going to play in the first game of the series and probably not in the second. I wouldn’t be surprised if he misses more games than that because calf strains are tricky. And of course, the Warriors have a right to expect to win the series without him and may not want to risk further injury by bringing him back too soon.
But facts are facts. Even if Portland steals a win on the road, it will have trouble holding serve. The Warriors have won at least one road game in their last 21 playoff series, an NBA record.
And since the 2014-15 season, Golden State has a 13-5 record (2-2 this season) in the regular season against the Blazers and is 8-1 in the playoffs.
Not only that, the Warriors are 3-0 in the playoffs without Durant in the lineup.
But all that historical stuff is meaningless. The series will be decided on the floor, where Portland is a definite underdog.
But can the Blazers win? Yes. Of course. Somebody, sometime, is going to knock these guys off.
And that team will probably have been an underdog heading into the series.