After much excitement and talk, the Blazers’ season so far has been nothing short of a disappointment for fans. Through Wednesday’s games – just three games past the halfway point of the 82-game season – the Blazers are 18-26 and they sit in ninth place in the Western Conference. They are only three-and-a-half games ahead of the last-place Phoenix Suns in the West.
What’s driving so many Portland fans crazy is the fact that on paper the Blazers stars are performing as well as expected. Damian Lillard is averaging 26 points per game and six assists, which is nearly identical to last season. C.J. McCollum is averaging just over 23 points per game and four assists, compared to last season’s 21 points per game. Leading rebounder Mason Plumlee is pulling down almost eight rebounds per game, just like last season, and is even averaging two more points. Statistically speaking, the numbers are similar for almost all the Blazers players. So why is it that last season the Blazers were two wins away from the conference championship and this year they are a sub-.500 team?
The answer is, Portland was never as good as fans believed it was. The Blazers had a similar record entering the mid-way point last year, at 15-24. But then they got hot, going on to win 17 of their next 21 games. For a couple weeks the Blazers were the hottest team in the NBA, only behind the Warriors. If it weren’t for the Blazers’ hot streak, they never would have finished fifth in the conference.
Then, in the playoffs the Blazers faced the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, a series the Clippers would have had much more likely won but their two star players went down with injuries, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. So, the Blazers squeezed through that round and faced a Golden State Warriors with a worn down and hurting MVP, Stephen Curry. Curry sat out the first three games and was not the same player he had been and Portland took advantage of that, nearly tying the series at 2-2 before falling in five games.
But how quickly fans forgot all those key factors.
The fanbase mentality quickly became one that thought the Blazers were one of the best teams in the West, when in reality they were a fifth-ranked team that saw all the dominoes fall in place for their impressive playoff run.
Fans set the goal for this season to reach the conference finals and compete to reach the NBA Finals, when they should have set the bar much lower. It should have been simply hoping the Blazers could reach the second round again.
Its still very possible Portland could finish in fifth place again, if they were to catch fire like they did last season. They are nine-and-a-half games back of the fifth seed right now, with 38 games remaining.
So don’t give up on Portland, yet. Remember, heading into last season they weren’t even expected to make the playoffs. But they shocked us all, and Lillard proved what a leader he can be. Be patient with this young team; it has a lot of talent and with the right pieces may be the team you hope for sooner than later.