Dec 2, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) celebrates with small forward Nicolas Batum (88) and center Robin Lopez (42) during the fourth quarter of the game at the Moda Center. The Blazers won the game 106-102. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NBA Playoffs: Previewing the Portland Trail Blazers

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Record: 54-28

Head Coach: Terry Stotts

Regular Season Team MVP: LaMarcus Aldridge

First Round Opponent: Houston Rockets

Regular Season Series vs. Houston: Rockets won 3-1.

The Portland Trail Blazers have been one of the more surprising teams this season. They started off on fire, with a record of 31-9 through the season’s first 40 games. During that run, they compiled an 11-game winning streak, two five-game winning streaks and a four-game winning streak. They also never lost more than two games in a row during that streak. Since then, they have been a little more on-and-off, still putting together a five-game winning streak, a four-game winning streak, a three-game winning streak and two three-game losing streaks. Although they’ve been a bit streaky this season, they seem to finally have a solid team roster that can play some good basketball in April and May.

This franchise has had a tough time with injuries, especially over the last few years. One reason for their sudden success this season is that they have finally been healthy. So far this season, Portland has played just two different starting lineups. That’s a point of emphasis for the team considering the organization’s recent injury history. The sad news, though, is we have seen how vulnerable the roster is when a player goes down, especially when that player is LaMarcus Aldridge.

They need to stay healthy to compete at the level we have seen in the early sitings of the season. They have been a little shaky in the latter half of the season, but seem to be getting in a groove again, winning nine of their last 10 games of the season.

Strengths: They score at a high rate (ranked 4th in the league with 107 points per game), they shoot the three-ball well (ranked 7th at 37 percent), they are the best free throw shooting team in the league (82 percent), they do a good job contesting threes (ranked 9th at opponent 3PT%), they don’t foul a lot (ranked 7th at 22 opponents free throws attempted per game), they are the best rebounding team in the league (46 per game, including 3rd in offensive rebounds and 6th in defensive rebounds), they assist the ball well (at 23 per game) and they don’t turn the ball over too often (13 per game).

The Trail Blazers have been very strong at home this season, which is key come playoff time. So far, out of the 41 games they’ve played in front of their fans, they have won 31 and lost only 10. Also, Portland has been pretty much unstoppable when Aldridge leads the game in scoring. During the 18 games this season where Aldridge has led the game in scoring, the Trail Blazers have won 16 of those games. It’s apparent that having him dominate brings the team wins. It’ll be even more crucial come playoff time.

Weaknesses: Portland doesn’t have too many weaknesses at this point in the season. They don’t steal the ball well (ranked last with 5 steals per game), they allow too many points (allowing 103 PPG) and they seem to be streaky, winning and losing games in bunches. Aside from that, they are a pretty solid team.

Their recent play has people worried about their playoff run being liable or not. Although, they still find ways to win here and there, they are losing plenty of games they should easily be winning. Their defense has been a little shaky. Recent games against Orlando and Charlotte have been a little disappointing for Portland. On March 22, they lost to Charlotte by thirty points. Then, on March 25, they lost to Orlando 95-85, which marked a three-game losing streak for the Blazers. They can’t be losing games like that, especially late in the season. It’s a red flag.

Playoff Ceiling: Portland will be playing the Houston Rockets in the first round. The winner of that game would go on to play either the first or eighth seed, the San Antonio Spurs or Dallas Mavericks respectively. The first round will be tough for the Trail Blazers, but a potential second round will be even tougher. Portland is a tough team to beat, but they are in a tough position right now and probably won’t make it further than the second round.

What Will Happen: Being the fifth seed is always tough. Despite playing a team that is practically a mirror image of yourself, they’ll usually just a smidge better and have homecourt advantage. With that being said, the first round for Portland will be a tough one and close one. I will say it will probably go down to seven games and they will win 4-3 against the Houston Rockets. The next round will put them to the test. I don’t see them winning that series agains the Spurs, but they will put up a fight without a doubt. They will probably lose in six games, 4-2.

 

Editor’s note: This was a guess post from Justin Becker of FantasyBasketballMoneyLeagues.com. You can follow him on twitter at @NBAFantasyInfo, and you can follow the Fantasy Basketball Money Leagues Google+ Page. For more NBA basketball news visit FantasyBasketballMoneyLeagues.com, a fantasy basketball blog.

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