The NBA announced the second half of the 2020-21 regular-season schedule Wednesday afternoon and all of Rip City's eyes opened wide at the end of Portland's schedule.
Among the Blazers' last 12 games, the first half of them come on a 6-game, East Coast road trip involving games at Indiana, Memphis, Brooklyn, and Boston. Then waiting for them at the Moda Center will be home games against the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets along with a quick road back-to-back at Utah and Phoenix.
Here are the last 12 games at a glance, with 10 opponents likely to make at least the play-in game in their conference. The second of a back-to-back have been italicized.
- Tues, April 27th: at Indiana
- Weds, April 28th: at Memphis
- Fri, April 30th: at Brooklyn
- Sun, May 2nd: at Boston
- Monday, May 3rd: at Atlanta
- Weds, May 5th: at Cleveland
- Fri, May 7th: vs. L.A. Lakers
- Sat, May 8th: vs. San Antonio
- Weds, May 12th: at Utah
- Thurs, May 13th: at Phoenix
- Sun, May 16th: vs. Denver
That's eight road games, ten playoff opponents, and four back-to-backs in the final three weeks of the NBA regular-season.
Now, here's why there's no need to panic:
First of all, everyone plays everyone in the NBA. You cannot hide from good teams like you're an SEC team scheduling Little Rock in Week 10 of the college football season. With that in mind, Portland wants to play the best teams on its schedule when both CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkić are back in the starting lineup. Heck, by the time these games are played, who is to say that Zach Collins won't be nearing a return either.
Portland has surprised everyone with an 18-13 record so far despite missing two-thirds of its Big-3 for most of the season. That's been largely due to a weaker strength of schedule which will regress to the mean as the season goes on, but that works to the Trail Blazers' benefit.
Play the easier opponents early, like a back-to-back against Minnesota as the second and third games of the second half of the season, when shorthanded rather than try to compete with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden without McCollum and Nurkic.
Also, some of these teams may just be resting large portions of their playoff rotation near the end of the regular season to refresh their players for the postseason. Unless LeBron James is still chasing that MVP Award he's angled the media to gift him for months, why would he play over 40 minutes against Portland in the second to last week of the regular season? He and the Lakers will likely be solidified as the third seed at that point, with little reason to desire to move up the standings with fans still likely disallowed at Staples Center.
The same goes for Brooklyn who will likely have one of the top-two seeds nearly wrapped up at that point, as well as the Blazers' final three opponents: Utah, Phoenix, and Denver.
Given the Jazz's lead on the top seed, it's hard to see that game mattering especially with Ty Lue treating his inaugural Clippers season as nothing more than a testing ground for the playoffs.
Phoenix may have its seed already locked up too heading into its final two games so why play Chris Paul and Devin Booker extended minutes? It would just be irresponsible.
Denver could be playing for seeding, but the Nuggets record has underperformed its point differential and the team should start winning more than it has sooner than later to avoid the play-in series, at least.
This also goes for the Blazers. If Damian Lillard and company can take care of business heading into this stretch, Portland could play a lot of Anfernee Simons while Dame coaches him up from the bench. If the Blazers need to win these games, it seems likely their opponents will not match that same urgency given Portland's mental edge similar to the seeding games in Orlando last summer.
While the stretch looks daunting at a glance, it's not that simple when you break down the scenarios for each opponent.
Also if it comes down to both teams playing at full strength, who is going to count out a hungry Damian Lillard? Rip City certainly will not.