Ladies and Gentlemen...we are getting so close.
With less than two weeks until NBA basketball is officially back in our lives, you can feel the excitement building up each and every day. Since players and teams have arrived in Orlando, it's been a pleasure to feel the joy again that comes from the anticipation of professional basketball being back in our hearts. Players seem to have nothing but smiles on their faces and have applauded the NBA for putting forth such a strong effort to allow this possibility to even have a chance at succeeding. Yes, we will still be anxiously checking our phones every morning to see the latest Shams/Woj bomb (#FreeWoj), but each day that goes by creates more optimism that the NBA has an actual shot to pull this off (knocking on wood currently.)
While so many NBA fans will be just thrilled to see meaningful basketball games being played again, there's still some serious playoff implications that we need to go over. The race for the 8th seed in the Western Conference is going to be absolute ANARCHY. Yes, the NBA has proposed a plan to have a play-in tournament if the race is close enough at the end of the "regular" season...but let's not focus on that right now. As of right now the Memphis Grizzlies have control of the 8th seed with a 3 game lead on the New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, and Portland Trail Blazers.
The last team is the one that NBA teams need to be paying some more attention to throughout the final stretch of this season. Personally, I believe that Portland could become a team that could ruffle some feathers in the playoffs. Now we apparently aren't the only one buying stock in the chances of Portland to get hot in Orlando. TNT and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley made a bold prediction tonight on NBA on TNT.
Chuck is back with another bold prediction 👀 pic.twitter.com/LpUTdD8CcH— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) July 17, 2020
Now I personally like to think I'm a bit crazy...I'm not THAT crazy. But being serious I get the point that Chuck is trying to make here. While you're still going to lean with a combination of Anthony Davis and Lebron James in any playoff series, I think Portland is becoming a team that no one should want to face in the playoffs. Yes, that includes you Laker fans. This is a year in which you have to throw normality out of the window. You can even make an argument that playoff seedings don't have the same impact as they do in years pasts. Does home court really mean anything? The answer is no, as fans won't be in the stands to create the edge that is so crucial for competitive playoff series.
The Trail Blazers actually got better with the pause in NBA action. I know that sentence might be hard to believe but let's take a look at the facts. Portland was one of the most injury-plauged teams in the NBA this year. There's a reason that the team is fighting for their chance to sneak into the playoffs. But with the additional time off, some important pieces to the puzzle are set to return for the Trail Blazers. Zach Collins will officially be back, and if you need a reminder of his importance to this team's overall success...just throw on last years playoffs. One of the biggest developments will be the return of the vastly-underrated big man Jusuf Nurkic who has been rehabbing an injury throughout the majority of the 2019-20 season. Nurkic was turning into an important building block for this Blazers team before his injury. It would be foolish to expect Nurkic to hit the ground firing on all cylinders, as there's going to be some rust to break loose. But still, it cannot be understated that Nurkic being back in the mix is a positive for Portland.
Another intriguing development was the "thin" version of Carmelo Anthony that arrived in Orlando. If you haven't been paying close attention to the reports out of Orlando, a different human being that claims to be Carmelo Anthony showed up at Disney World and looks to have lost some serious weight.
Slim Melo 👀 pic.twitter.com/KsW1nxWLwu— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) July 12, 2020
It's a notable development for sure, as the Blazers seem to have a lot of promising momentum building up towards a late push at the playoffs. After signing with the Blazers early in the year, Carmelo has been a big addition for Portland. Anthony is currently averaging 15.3 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 42.6% from the floor. The interesting question to ponder here, is Melo prepping to spend the majority of his time at the 3 for Portland? The noticeable weight loss could be Portland trying to keep Carmelo on the floor, especially with two fellow bigs returning to the mold. If Melo's conditioning and quickness have improved rapidly, it could have Portland's offense taking another step forward.
As it stands now Portland has their work cut out for them. They currently sit three games back of Memphis for the 8th seed and their remaining schedule will be a barfight. The final eight games on Portland's schedule includes the Grizzlies, Celtics, Rockets, Nuggets, Clippers, Sixers, Mavericks, and Nets. The Trail Blazers will have minimal room for error, as they are fighting to stay in the hunt. With a number of reinforcements returning, Portland looks to be ready for a battle.