Eye on the 8: The Trail Blazers will make the playoffs if...
Let the stretch run begin
After four months off, the Blazers will finally return to the court on Friday.
The Blazers will tip-off against the Memphis Grizzlies at 1pm, and thus will start their quest to catch those Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot.
It is certainly an uphill battle to get into the playoffs with just eight regular-season games to play, but it can be done.
I'm here to say it - The Blazers will make the playoffs, if...
They beat Memphis to start
Portland starts the eight-game pre-playoff run with a must-win against the Memphis Grizzlies. The game is essentially worth two.
Portland is currently 3.5 games behind the eighth-place Grizzlies.
Win, and you cut that Memphis lead to 2.5
Lose, and you fall to 4.5 games back.
If Portland can't leap Memphis over the eight games, then they have to finish in ninth place and be within four games to force a play-in.
That task becomes easier with a win on Friday.
Damian Lillard returns to super-human form
Damian Lillard is one of the best point guards in the game, but at the end of Januray/beginning of February this season he was the best player on the planet.
Over a six-game stretch, Lillard averaged 48.8 points per game. Lillard scored 50 or more in those six games, including a career-high 61 point outburst against the Warriors.
Better yet, the Blazers went 5-1 in that stretch. They will need a win-loss record like that in these eight games, and the return of super-human Lillard could help lead the way.
They win a minimum of 5 games
Portland will likely need to go at least 5-3 over this stretch to secure the ninth spot.
4-4, might... might get you the ninth spot, but it likely won't be enough to force the play-in.
So, Portland needs to aim for at least five, but why stop there?
A realistic goal to make sure there is no room for error is six. 6-2 should be enough to allow Portland to breathe easy... for a moment, before taking on Memphis for a shot at the playoffs.
They lockdown the perimeter
The Blazers perimeter defense was poor, to say the least, over the team's three scrimmage games.
All three teams, Oklahoma City, Toronto, and Indiana attempted 30 or more three-pointers against the Blazers.
Of those three, Indiana made the fewest, but they still made 13 of them.
Now, these numbers can be taken with a grain of salt. Portland didn't fully unleash their defensive playbook. However, their three-point defense wasn't great this season.
That will be helped by having Zach Collins back, but the Blazers need to figure out how to defend the deep ball... or just make more than the other team.
The Bosnian Beast plays like the Bosnian Beast.
The biggest storyline coming into the game will be the official return of Jusuf Nurkic. The Blazers center hasn't played since March of last season when he broke his leg against the Nets.
Having Nurkic back is a huge boost. He is great on both the offensive and defensive ends, and is one of the best passing big men in the game. He also runs the pick and roll with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to near perfection.
The Blazers are a whole different beast, no pun intended, when Nurkic is on the floor.
They will need Nurk in Beastmode in Orlando. He showed flashes in the team's three scrimmages but given a full complement of minutes and weapons, Portland hopes to get the version of Nurkic that is a 5x5 threat every time he's on the court.
They shake off the rust off and adapt quickly
The Blazers have a history of starting slow out of the gate, and that cannot happen in the restart. There is zero margin for error.
The Blazers can't use the first game against Memphis to shake the rest of the rust off. That's what three weeks of camp and three scrimmages were for.
Portland needs to come out sharp and in "mid-season" form. Heck, do one better, Portland needs to be in playoff mode from the jump.
Bring the energy. Bring the intensity.
They treat every game like a playoff game
Speaking of playoff mode, the Blazers don't have eight regular-season games to play.
Rather, they have eight playoff games to play... at least that's how they should approach them.
Portland needs to approach every game as if it's a do-or-die, because it is.
One loss could end up being the difference between a play-in game or a plane flight home.
The playoffs start now, and Portland needs to take advantage.