With just 17 games remaining on the 2019-20 NBA regular season schedule, before the season was indefinitely suspended, the playoff picture was beginning to take shape.
The Western Conference, per usual, was more difficult to see what the postseason would look like with so much talent and just the Los Angeles Lakers had clinched a playoff berth by the time of the suspension.
Every game mattered towards the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture with several teams in a tight race for the eighth spot: Memphis Grizzlies (32-33); Portland Trail Blazers (29-37); New Orleans Pelicans (28-36); Sacramento Kings (28-36); San Antonio Spurs (27-36) and Phoenix Suns (26-39).
Whoever that eighth seed would have been, would have had a date with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. We do know one thing, LeBron didn’t want that date to be with Damian Lillard.
I know this, the Lakers are a really good team and would rather see the Grizzlies than see the big, battle-tested, physical, veteran Trail Blazers. — Channing Frye
Here's what LeBron James said in March about running into Portland in the playoffs:
You got a Dame Lillard who can go for 50, a CJ McCollum that can score 40, a Carmelo Anthony that if he gets hot, which we know in the postseason could go for 35/40 as well... When you have that type of experience with Portland, they can make things happen. — LeBron James
He's not wrong and here's why:
One, remaining schedule.
There were 17 games remaining on the 2019-2020 NBA regular season schedule. Of those 17 games, Memphis was to play six teams with a below .500 record. Portland had nine out of 17 upcoming opponents under .500.
According to the 2019-2020 NBA roster survey, the Grizzlies are the sixth-youngest team in the NBA with an average age of 24.99 years old, slightly below the overall average of 26.18 years old. Portland’s average team age is 26.79 years old.
Not to forget that The Bosnian Beast Jusuf Nurkic was one game away from making his highly-anticipated debut back to the court following a gruesome injury last season just before the pandemic hit. The Blazers would have had Nurk playing down the stretch. Plus, Zach Collins was close to return following his shoulder injury earlier this season.
Obviously, when you think about the Portland Trail Blazers, nobody gets a bigger jolt from where they were roster-wise from when this thing stopped to when they’ll resume with Nurkic and Zach Collins being available. No one gets a bugger jolt to their rotation than the Portland Trail Blazers. — Dan Sheldon
And there’s no film on them. So now you’re like ‘Hey Hassan Whiteside you start, bring big Nurk off the bench.’ I don’t care what team, that’s a ridiculous one-two punch. Or visa versa depending on what’s best for your team. — Channing Frye
Ridiculous indeed, but for now, Rip City and the rest of the NBA will just have to patiently wait for that time to come.
Also, just a friendly reminder of what happened the last time Portland played Los Angeles:
Damian Lillard with an Epic Slam Dunk over Multiple Lakers pic.twitter.com/dr36OZZhhZ— The Render (@TheRenderNBA2) February 1, 2020
Be sure to check out the full Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with host NBA Champion Channing Frye and Emmy Award winner Dan Sheldon.