The Portland Trailblazers at 18-25 are legitimately in the playoff hunt for the 8th seed in the West around the halfway point of the season. Both the fact that the Trailblazers are still in playofff contention and the fact that they could be so with such an unimpressive record, are two things that seemed unlikely at the beginning of the season.
Portland has lost four of the starters that helped lead them to consecutive 50 win seasons over the summer. The most conspicuous absence is the Blazers former franchise cornerstone Lamarcus Aldridge. who fled the Pacific Northwest for a chance to compete for a title with the Spurs. Wes Matthews and Robin Lopez left in free agency, and Nicolas Batum was traded east to Charlotte for Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson.
The Blazers filled out their roster by signing solid players like Ed Davis and Al-Farouq Aminu and trading for Mo Harkless from Orlando while leaving themselves enough cap space to sign Enes Kanter to a big offer sheet that was later matched by the Thunder. This left Portland well under the salary cap floor, which should make them an interesting team to watch at the trade deadline.
On the court this season, the Blazers defense has fallen off while their offense has remained among the top ten in the NBA. Damian Lillard is obviously a key here. The fourth year player remains among the best scoring point guard in the NBA averaging a career high 24.7 points a game. A bit more surprising is the play of 3rd year combo guard C.J. McCollum, who is in the running for the Most Improved Player award (for a bit more on McCollum, listen to his excellent interview with Zach Lowe on this week's Lowe Post podcast). He's averaging 20.4 points per game, up almost 14 points from last year. Statistically, McCollum's numbers read a lot like Bradley Beal's as he is a good scorer and three point shooter who rarely gets to the foul line but has the ability to distribute and handle the ball at the 2 guard position.
When: Monday, January 18, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. ET
Where: The Verizon Center
Watch: CSN Washington
Listen: WNEW 99.1 in the DMV
Bradley Beal should be back, but Drew Gooden, Kris Humphries and Drew Gooden remain questionable and Alan Anderson is not expected back.
Most likely Wizard Killer
Allen Crabbe. The third year wing from Cal is having his best season and has the ability to shoot from beyond the arc. Crabs are known to do quite well in this area, and sure, the name is spelled differently but nobody claimed this was a scientific process.