Portland Trail Blazers Path to the Western Conference Finals

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CJ McCollum
PORTLAND, USA - OCTOBER 3: Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum (3) shoots during the preseason game against the Phoenix Suns in Portland, Ore., United States, on October 2, 2017. (Photo by Alex Milan Tracy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The Portland Trail Blazers have been stellar as they hold a 2-0 series lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder. After being swept in the previous two playoffs, the Portland Trail Blazers have a legitimate shot at reaching the Western Conference Finals.

Portland Trail Blazers Path to the Western Conference Finals

As the regular season wrapped up, many felt that the Portland Trail Blazers were purposefully looking to finish as the fourth seed. If that were the case, they’d likely face off against the Utah Jazz in the first round. Instead, Portland notched the third seed and a matchup against the six seed Oklahoma City Thunder.

The league-wide consensus was that, should there be an upset in the first round, it would likely be the Thunder knocking off the Blazers. In the last two playoffs, Portland has been swept, failing to record a single win. Without Jusuf Nurkic, the Portland Trail Blazers surely would be outmatched by the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Steven Adams.

Instead, Damian Lillard has been winning the point guard matchup. CJ McCollum has been hitting the shots Portland needs from him, and the Blazers have gotten more production from their bench unit. The series now shifts to OKC, where the Blazers can capitalize on their momentum.

If they can power through the first round, the Trail Blazers have a legitimate shot at the Western Conference Finals.

First Round Advantage: Superior Shooting

Marcus Thompson of The Athletic made note of an incredible stat for the Thunder. In the first two games of this series, OKC is 10-for-61 from beyond the arc. That calculates to 16.4%. Simply put, that is absolutely awful. Take away the shooting of Paul George, and who steps up to hit the three?

In Game 1, Portland shot 11-for-25 from three, good for 44%. In Game 2, they converted 40% of their three-point shots in contrast to OKC’s 17.9%. The Blazers’ ability to consistently shoot from behind the arc gives them a valuable edge over the Thunder.

However, Portland must be able to carry this momentum on the road if they want to advance to the semifinals. Oklahoma City has a strong home court advantage, so it could come down to which team can win on the road. As long as Portland can accomplish that, their shooting can give them the edge in this series.

Second Round Advantage: Experience and Talent

Should Portland advance to the semifinals, they will either face-off against the Denver Nuggets or the San Antonio Spurs. That series is currently at 2-1 in favor of the Spurs, with the second-seed Nuggets looking very vulnerable in their first playoff appearance.

If Denver can make it to the semifinals, they would hold homecourt advantage over Portland. The Nuggets did win the season series 3-1 over the Blazers. However, the Blazers have an abundance of playoff experience in contrast to the Nuggets, even if that experience isn’t so pleasant.

With Lillard and McCollum playing lights-out, their experience should help them in clutch moments with high stakes. The Nuggets could very well falter in contrast (as we’ve witnessed partly in their initial matchup against the Spurs).

If Portland instead sees the Spurs in the second round, they’ll have homecourt advantage in their back pocket. Portland and San Antonio split the regular season series. Although San Antonio has DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, they haven’t proven to be as consistent as they’ll need to be for the postseason. And if Lillard and McCollum continue playing on a tear? The talent gap should bode well in Portland’s favor.

 

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