On this week's episode of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast, we gauge our confidence level in Portland's playoff chances, debate which was the worst thing to happen to the Blazers this season, and make predictions for the next four games.
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1. The Blazers have lost two of three since the All-Star break and they're still without Damian Lillard. But they've actually gained a game and a half on the Grizzlies, who have lost four in a row. With 23 games left, Portland trails eighth-place Memphis by just 2.5 games. On a scale of 1-10, what's your confidence level that the Blazers will make the playoffs this season?
Jared: I'll put my confidence level at a 4. I expect Memphis to continue to struggle because of its difficult schedule and injuries to key players. But I think the team that has the best chance of surging past Memphis — and the Blazers — is New Orleans. Zion Williamson is incredible, and the Pelicans have talent, good health and an easier schedule than the Blazers. I'm not counting the Blazers out, but a lot of uncertain things have to turn in Portland's favor. Damian Lillard needs to return in the next few games, and the Blazers need Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins back soon, as well, to shore up their depth. Once Lillard and hopefully one or both of Nurkic and Collins are back, I think Portland can go on a run considering their soft schedule. Until Lillard gets back, the Blazers must beat the bad teams on their schedule. They have to stay ahead of the Pelicans, because New Orleans is going to win a lot of games down the stretch and they have the tiebreaker against Portland.
Nate: I’ll say a 2. Not as low as it was during the All-Star break, but I still have very little confidence they’ll finish the season ahead of both Memphis and New Orleans. The things the Blazers need to happen have happened over the last week. Memphis has lost all four of its games since the All-Star break and will continue to have a difficult schedule the rest of the season. Meanwhile, after Thursday’s game against Indiana, Portland has a six-game stretch against teams below .500 before they play Memphis again. So, the schedule would suggest Portland can make up ground. But I still believe Memphis is a better team than the Blazers. They beat Portland before the All-Star break and I don’t expect the Blazers will beat Memphis in both of the two remaining matchups this season to make up ground on them head-to-head. And Memphis may not be the team that should worry the Blazers the most. New Orleans is just half a game behind Portland, has won 8 of their last 12 games, has a favorable schedule and owns the tiebreaker over the Blazers.
Orlando: So much of this question revolves around the health of Damian Lillard. If he’s back this week, I like their chances and would put it at a 6 or even a 7. Without him, they are done. The longer it takes for their All-Star to get back, the lower their chances are of making the playoffs. With 23 games left, the 8 seed is there for the taking, especially with 2 games against Memphis, in Portland. It’s a 3-4 team race for the final spot. Laugh at me if you want, but I’m actually looking forward to seeing how the race for the 8 seed plays out.