Trail Blazers x-factors, trap games, starting lineups and more
The Trail Blazers boarded their flight Thursday to head to the Orlando Bubble to begin the NBA’s quarantine-process of resuming the 2019-20 season.
The Blazers will be quarantined for nearly two days before full-contact practices get underway at the Walt Disney World campus for a three-week training camp.
With so much to consider when thinking about the NBA resuming play in Orlando amid the rise of COVID-19 cases in Florida, let’s take a look at what we should expect as well as what will need to happen in order for the Blazers to have a successful return to play scenario…
It’s hard to argue with the team captain on what is going to be the best starting five for the Blazers.
In a Zoom press conference last week, Damian Lillard discussed his projected starting lineup when play resumes:
- Damian Lillard
- CJ McCollum
- Carmelo Anthony
- Zach Collins
- Jusuf Nurkic
It will be the first time these five take an NBA court together. Melo has already talked about how excited he is to play alongside the two healthy 7-footers.
This big lineup will cause some mis-matches for other teams and the Blazers could go even bigger if Blazers Coach Terry Stotts decides to move Nurk to the four and start Hassan Whiteside at the five while moving Collins to the bench. Best lineup these days equals a big lineup.
Blazers record to make playoffs
In order to make it to the playoffs, the Trail Blazers have some ground to make up. Portland is currently on the outside looking in. Memphis currently holds the eighth and final playoff spot out West with Portland, New Orleans, and Sacramento 3.5 games back. San Antonio is currently four games back and Phoenix is six-games back.
Portland will most likely need to go 6-2 or 5-3, just as CJ McCollum said on a Zoom call earlier this week to make it to the postseason. That record won’t be an easy feat especially with the Blazers starting off their eight-game slate versus Memphis. But, Portland's record to make the playoffs, of course, depends on how things shake out for the Grizzlies, Pelicans, and Kings.
The Blazers know every single one of their eight ‘regular season’ games are going to be difficult and are extremely important.
Most likely there won’t be a game that the Blazers would consider a trap game, but if we had to pick one it would probably be Dallas. If the Blazers find success to start the eight-game slate with wins over Memphis, Boston, and then Houston and others, Portland could start feeling good, and overlook a team later in the schedule like the Sixers or Mavs.
Granted, if the Blazers are already out of the playoff chase by their seventh game when they take on the Mavericks this game won’t even matter.
Circle the calendar game
We haven’t seen the Blazers play a game since Mar. 10 when Portland beat Phoenix, 121-105 at home.
Thus, the Blazers first game of the restart is set for July 31 and there's no doubt it will be circled on fan's calendars.
But that game should be triple circled.
Portland starts off its return to play schedule against Memphis and rising star rookie guard Ja Morant.
The battle for the eighth seed between the Grizzlies, Blazers, and Pelicans is going to be the talk of the bubble (at least for those three teams it will be).
All eight games will be aired on NBCSNW!
Okay, no surprises here.
Getting their two seven-footers back in the lineup is going to be huge (excuse the pun), for the Trail Blazers.
Just as Lillard said, "[Nurkic and Collins] look great. They make me feel way more confident going in just from seeing them -- both of them. Like I forgot, I didn’t forget, but I forgot who they were. Like it's been so long that I almost forgot… You’ve just got to see, man."
There’s also many factors to take into consideration when thinking about how much of an impact Lillard is about to make playing with a chip on his shoulder.
So, between Dame, Nurk, and Big Z, teams better bring it, because the Blazers are ready to make some noise in Orlando.
There are several storylines that have been circulating over the past few weeks as the Blazers get set to restart the season. As we’ve talked about a lot, Nurk and Collins making their return is extremely important for the success of this team in the bubble. Plus, life in the bubble will be its own big storyline.
But, as far as best storylines off the court, all eyes will be on the Trail Blazers and the rest of the NBA as teams look to keep the conversations going about social injustice while the season resumes and not to detract from the Black Lives Matter movement.
Lillard has chosen the social justice statement of “How Many More?” to be worn on the back on his jersey, while McCollum selected “Education Reform.”