Portland was humming along all season until guard Wesley Matthews injured his Achilles, and now his loss seems to be the Achilles of the Trail Blazers. But with odds of Portland to win an NBA Championship at 50/1 in some places, is now the perfect time to make Blazers Futures bets? Insert buzzer sound here.
The Portland Trail Blazers (45-25, 102.5 PF-98.1 PA) and Head Coach Terry Stotts were rolling merrily right along in the NBA’s Western Conference this season until earlier this month when starting SG Wesley Matthews injured his Achilles tendon, ending his season and slowing this team’s flow, and potentially confidence to a great degree. Last night (Wednesday), the Trail Blazers did snap a 5-game losing streak, rallying in the 4th quarter for a 92-89 win over the Jazz in Utah, but the night Portland lost the 28-year-old Marquette product Matthews—a team already thin at the Guard spot—may have been the night the Blazers season (and hopes) died. Next up on the schedule for Portland is a date with the Suns at the US Airways Center in Phoenix on Friday night (NBA-TV, 10:05 p.m. ET/7:05 p.m. PT).
Currently in the No. 4-seed spot, the Blazers would theoretically be playing the 5th-seeded Los Angeles Clippers (47-25) in Round 1 of the Western Conference Playoffs. So, it seems the Fun may be over in the Rose City. With just 8 games left on their schedule until those Playoffs actually begin (Saturday, April 18) after that aforementioned Home meeting on Friday against their potential Round 1 playoff opponent, the Clippers, the Blazers and Head Coach Stotts will probably be looking to just simply not have anything bad happen to some of their Key Guys to make matters any worse. Duck and Cover basketball, basically, bruh. Knowing it will likely either face the Clippers, current No. 6-seed, the San Antonio Spurs (45-26) or the 7th-seeded Dallas Mavericks (45-27), this Portland team and coaching staff is probably already scheming how to try to survive any of those potential Round 1 matchups that could lie on the horizon. But when you’re scheming to survive you’re not really living the way you would normally want to, so the Blazers current and future Mindset will be that of a team looking to make the most out a bad situation (Matthews injury), and that recent 5-game losing streak speaks volumes about how important Matthews’ defense and sheer presence was to this team.
Possible Starting Five
C—Robin Lopez (9.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.50 bpg)
PF—LaMarcus Aldridge (23.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg)
SF—Nicolas Batum (9.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 4.8 apg)
SG—Arron Afflalo (10.3 ppg)
PG—Damian Lillard (21.4 ppg, 6.3 apg, 1.29 spg)
Bench, Roster Depth
C—Chris Kaman (8.7 ppg)
PF—Meyers Leonard (5.4 ppg)
SF—Alan Crabbe (2.9 ppg)
SG—C.J. McCollum (5.5 ppg)
PG—Steve Blake (4.3 ppg)
SF—Dorrell Wright (4.5 ppg)
SF—Alonzo Gee (2.4 ppg)
SG—Wesley Matthews (15.9 ppg, 3.7 apg, 2.3 rpg, 1.3 spg)—IL
Injuries, Coaching, Intangibles (Potential Path)
Portland (35-34-1 ATS, 19-15-1 ATS Home, 16-19 ATS Away) basically just had one of those nightmare scenarios in the NBA happen. You’re running good, the Coaching Staff’s 18-month effort to get the team to concentrate and expend more energy on Defense is working perfectly, you’re sitting pretty in the conference, crushing it in your own division (Northwest), and then SPLATT!—your Heart and Soul (Matthews) tears the Achilles tendon in his left foot at the worst possible point in the Regular Season, and you’re forced to try to replace the irreplaceable. Do you have an aspirin? Matthews suffered the injury on March 5 in Portland’s 95-74 win over the Mavericks at Home at the Moda Center, when, with 10:10 left in the 3rd Quarter, he gathered in a pass and tried to make a move to the basket, only to find Mavericks PF Dirk Nowitzki in his path. Making a move to avoiding any contact, Matthews then injured his Achilles—losing the ball in the process—and winced as he fell to the hardwood. And just like that, Portland’s season changed on a Dime. The Little Things. Always the Little Things. So anyway, the Blazers' Heart and Soul Matthews was scheduled to undergo surgery on Wednesday and was aiming to return for the start of the 2015/20016 NBA season.
And this Portland (50/1 NBA odds to win NBA Championship, Sportingbet) team has/had a number of other minor hurts worth mentioning with star PF LaMarcus Aldridge (torn ligaments left thumb), starting SF Nicolas Batum (back) and second-string C Chris Kaman (shoulder) all still nursing various injuries of their own. So, a vital starter is out until the beginning of next season, some other guys are a bit beat up, the team is wafer-thin at the Guard spot, its Bench doesn’t exactly look like world-beaters and they haven’t proven they can consistently win on the Road (17-18). Any questions? I would love to be optimistic about the Blazers (28-7 Home), and Head Coach Terry Stotts is incredibly underrated and he and his staff have done an incredible job of getting this team where it’s at in the rough-and-tumble Western Conference of the NBA, but this is where the rubber meets the road Billy and I’m afraid that thoughts of any miraculous or deep run the Blazers (4-6 L10) would have made through the NBA Playoffs died at the 10:10 mark of that 3rd Quarter win against the Mavericks on March 5.
Portland’s Potential Playoff Path also looks to be trying. For now, it would face the Clippers in Round 1, and Portland (#2 in NBA in Rebounding, 45.8 rpg) is 1-2 against The Better Team in Los Angeles Now, with an April 1 date at Home at the Moda Center in Portland (NBA-TV) wrapping up the Regular Season series. But the Blazers could very well get someone even tougher than the Clippers. If the Blazers do make it out of the opening round, a Round 2 series with the Western Conference’s top seed, the Golden State Warriors (3/1 to win NBA Championship, BetVictor) may loom, or maybe a meeting with the current 8th-seed, the Oklahoma City Thunder (16/1 to win NBA Championship, Paddy Power), should they make the postseason and upset the Warriors in Round 1. Portland would obviously prefer to play the Thunder, should it advance, a team it went 3-0 against this season, whereas the Blazers are 0-2 against the Warriors—getting sandblasted by Golden State, 122-108 on Tuesday night in Portland—with the Regular Season series finale coming up April 9 in Oakland (TNT). And if the Blazers (33/1 to win Western Conference, Sportingbet) can make the Western Conference Finals, then possibly a date with the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs (+650 to win NBA Championship, Paddy Power) or maybe the West’s current No. 2-seed, the Memphis Grizzlies (12/1, Sky Bet) or the Houston Rockets (18/1, BetVictor). It ain’t easy.
Who knew that The Fate of the Portland Trail Blazers this season would be tied to the health of Wesley Matthews and not one of their two big stars, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge? Nostradamus nor Miss Cleo said nothing of this. So, the weight of the world will be Matthews’ replacement at the SG spot, Arron Afflalo. And Afflalo’s a great guy to have to be able to plug right in to your starting lineup, but those making NBA picks know that what was lost when Matthews went down can’t simply be reflected in numbers or mere words. It’s easy to see what he did offensively, but on the defensive end of court, Matthews was one of the main reasons that this team had made such great strides defensively. Up until the date of Matthews’ injury (March 5), Portland ranked #3 in the NBA in Defensive Efficiency, allowing 93.3 points per 100 possessions. After Matthews went down, the Blazers quickly plummeted to #27, allowing 17.2 points more per 100 possessions (110.5 points per 100 possessions). Backcourt mate and stud Lillard talked about what the Blazers would miss in Matthews absence in an interview, saying, “His (Matthews) ability to lock guys up defensively and kind of spark us at that end of the floor.” And although Lillard and Aldridge are both phenomenal NBA players, Portland took a massive physical and psychological hit with this Achilles injury to Matthews, and the Blazers roster is incredibly thin and their Bench very suspect (at this point in Time) in my mind. With Matthews out, Portland currently has just 4 Guards on its Roster—Lillard, Afflalo, C.J. McCollum and Steve Blake—meaning that the pressure will really be on all of them now to produce and not get injured themselves. And it’s hard to play 100% “Let’s Go Win A Bleeding NBA Championship Basketball” when you’re a Guard worried about getting injured or that there’s maybe nobody there to back you up but Small Forwards if you do. Fear distracts. And the weird thing about Matthews’ injury is that it happened without contact, in a somewhat meaningless, near end-of-the-season game out of nowhere. Not enough can be made about how much this player’s injury has affected this team’s psyche and chances to win their their second-ever NBA championship and first since 1975, when some of you weren’t even a tickle in your Pappy’s sack. And the Blazers will certainly need Matthews surgery, Rehab and Physical Therapy and eventual recovery to go well to have him ready for the start of next NBA season when this Portland team should have a fuller roster and more effectively be able to make a run at some much-needed Glory, trying again to win and come out of what will surely again be a brutal Western Conference.
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