The Portland Trail Blazers have transformed into a completely new and rejuvenated team over the second-half of the season, surging towards a playoff berth as a result. Their fate was sealed when, on Sunday night, the ninth placed Denver Nuggets conceded a buzzer beating defeat to the Oklahoma City Thunder with Russell Westbrook recording a historic triple-double to eliminate them from playoff contention. This Thunder win cemented Portland’s place in the playoffs as the eight seed.
— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) April 9, 2017
Since the All-Star break, Portland has been sensational. They’ve recaptured the same form that had seen them clinch a postseason berth last season and the two years prior to that, a four-year postseason run for the first time since 2000-03. With a record of 18-8, along with a plethora of winning streaks since February 23rd, the Trail Blazers have deservedly cemented their place as a team that is to be taken seriously.
This is about redemption.
— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) April 13, 2017
However, their chances almost solely rest on the hopes that Jusuf Nurkic is back from injury in time to face the Warriors. Nurkic is currently awaiting medical clearance after he sustained a displaced fracture in his right fibula, which has seen him miss the last seven games, and it is unlikely that even if cleared to play at some point during the playoffs, he will regain his starting spot right away, as a precaution. The Bosnian center has been dominant since joining from Denver on February 13th. He has averaged 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 20 games in Portland and without their new franchise cornerstone, they face a far more difficult task against the Dubs.
The indelible @jwquick on with us now: “Reading the tea leaves, I would guess he’s (Nurkic) is going to be ready game one.”
— Isaac Ropp (@iropp) April 14, 2017
The Warriors, on the other hand, are one of the favorites to go all the way. They finished the regular season strong, including a 14-game winning streak (the longest in the NBA this year) that was abruptly ended by the Utah Jazz on the penultimate game of the season. And now with Kevin Durant and Steph Curry back after their respective injuries, Golden State is ready to continue their form long into the postseason.
Despite a season culminating in 67 wins, many have supported the statement that the Warriors have fallen short of expectations. Curry hit back at claims criticizing his individual performances compared to last year, explaining that there’s more to realise about helping a team win games.
The following is from Bleacher Report:
“I think it’s comical that people were saying I’m having a down year,” Curry said. “To go black and white and say I’m not having as good a season as I was having last year based on just five points a game or shooting percentage or whatnot.”
Prediction: Warriors in 5
When the two franchises met in last year’s Western Conference Semi-Finals after the Warriors eased past the Houston Rockets in five games and Portland beat the L.A. Clippers in six (after losing the first two games), the Blazers were no match for the Warriors – losing in five games.
A similar pattern may resonate come the end of the first round. But this is definitely a series to watch. In Curry and Damian Lillard, the matchup will showcase two very explosive guards, adept at catching fire and staying hot. With Nurkic likely to be either out of contention or on a sufficient minutes restriction, “Dame” will be Portland’s main man, and if he plays well, the Trail Blazers are in with a shot of winning a couple of games.
But unfortunately for Portland, the task they face is ultimately too tough, and with Golden State’s roster reassembling just in time for the first round, the Warriors are well on their way to the second round. However, with the odds stacked heavily against them, Lillard hasn’t held back on who he believes will win this series:
Dame is confident. pic.twitter.com/yJgOmbnBtD
— Hoops Nation 🔥 (@GoHoopsNation) April 14, 2017
Game one will take place in Golden State on Sunday afternoon.