After the New Orleans Pelicans, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, and the San Antonio Spurs got officially eliminated in the playoff race, only two teams are left to battle for the final playoff spot in the deep Western Conference – the Portland Trail Blazers and the Memphis Grizzlies. Before 2020 Playoffs begins, the Trail Blazers and the Grizzlies are set to face each other to determine which team will be facing the Western Conference No. 1 seed Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. The Ja Morant-led squad may have succeeded to surprise everyone this season but with their lack of experience, most people still favor Damian Lillard’s team to beat them in the play-in tournament.
The Trail Blazers don’t only have the advantage in terms of star power, but they also just need to win one out of two games to qualify in the postseason. According to Andy Bailey of Bleacher Report, the Trail Blazers “seems almost sure to win” against the Grizzlies if their core players manage to remain healthy in the upcoming games.
“Memphis won’t go down without a fight, but a mostly healthy Blazers roster seems almost sure to win at least one out of two tries against the surprising Grizzlies. FiveThirtyEight’s projection system gives them a 93 percent shot to secure eighth place.”
It’s hard to blame Bailey for betting on Portland. Morant is indeed establishing a remarkable performance in Orlando, but Lillard, who is averaging 37.6 points and 9.6 assists in the bubble, has just activated beast mode and is currently in the zone. Also, unlike Morant in Memphis, Dame isn’t alone in carrying his team.
As Buckley noted, the Trail Blazers still have few other players who are posting an incredible performance in Orlando, including CJ McCollum (20.1 points, 2.5 threes, 37.0 three-point percentage), Gary Trent Jr. (16.9 points, 4.3 threes, 50.7 three-point percentage), and Carmelo Anthony (16.5 points, 1.9 threes, 46.9 three-point percentage). Also, though he’s yet to unlock his ability to space the floor, Jusuf Nurkic, who has just returned from an injury, is already posting decent numbers for the Trail Blazers and making his presence felt on both ends of the floor.
In the eight games he played this season, the 25-year-old center is averaging 17.6 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 1.4 steals while shooting 49.5 percent from the field, per ESPN. Aside from having an experienced starting lineup, the Trail Blazers also have more reliable contributors off the bench than the Grizzlies. Morant and the Grizzlies are still expected to give a tough battle, but as of now, only injuries can prevent Portland from claiming the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.