On this week's episode of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast, we talk about Damian Lillard's injury and whether the Blazers can still make the playoffs, discuss the potential return of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, revisit our worst preseason predictions and make one big prediction each for the rest of the season.
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1. Damian Lillard is hurt and the Blazers are now five games back in the loss column for the final playoff spot in the West. Are the playoffs still possible?
Nate: Any hope remaining for the Blazers to make the playoffs is on life support. The only reason I'm still saying they have a sliver of hope is because of Damian Lillard. He didn't seem too concerned that the injury he suffered against Memphis would keep him out an extended period, so I don't expect him to miss much time. We've already seen him carry this team for a two-week stretch this season. And a three-game losing streak by Memphis could put Portland right back in the thick of the race. But the Grizzlies are 22-10 in their last 32 games. If they play .500 the rest of the season, they'll be 42-40, which I would put on the low end of what their record will be at the end of the season. That means Portland would have to finish the season 17-9 to get to 42-40. That seems like too big of a hole for the Blazers to dig themselves out of, but I'll give them a slim chance because of Lillard.
Orlando: If this Damian Lillard injury is serious and he's missing games, it's a wrap. If he's OK, then they've still got a chance. Anyone who legitimately follows this team knows you can't count them out with Lillard on the court. After the Memphis game he said, "Don’t think that was just it." He was referring to the two-week tear he went on. He might not average 45 points per game but he is going to play at a high level and elevate the guys around him. He does it every year. The Blazers have 26 games left and they have one of the easiest remaining schedules, while Memphis will be put to the test with arguably the strongest schedule in the league. Portland will have opportunities to catch them. They just have to hope they don't end up in a tie breaker situation with New Orleans. The Blazers have their work cut out for them, five back in the loss column, but to write them off, I'm not going there yet. This is setting up to be an entertaining race to the finish.
Jared: The Blazers are now four games behind the Grizzlies for the final playoff spot in the West and five games back in the loss column. In the past 10 seasons, only one team has been that far back at the break and still made the playoffs (h/t Matt Moore). The Blazers face an uphill, almost unprecedented climb to get into the playoffs. You never want to count out Damian Lillard, but you also can't count on him because at this time, we're still unsure of his injury status. If it's a Grade 1 strain, he could be back shortly after the All-Star break. If it's a Grade 2 strain, he could miss a couple months. If Lillard comes back shortly after the break, it's not over. Many of the reasons for optimism still exist. Dame is really good. The team could get Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins back. Memphis has the toughest-remaining schedule in the league while Portland has one of the easiest. The Blazers have two games left against the Grizzlies, both at home. But if Dame has to miss a significant amount of time, it's over. The Blazers are 10 points worse per 100 possessions this season without Lillard on the court. The team has had a negative net rating when he's been off the court each of the past four season, and during that same timeframe, Portland is 10-10 in the 20 games Lillard has missed. That’s not good enough. If the Blazers want to make the playoffs for the seventh season in a row, they'll have to be much better than a .500 team after the break.