The NBA’s Best Playoff Team is the Portland TrailblazersApril 23, 2019
By: Matthew Lippe, Sports Analyst
The title of this article may lead to some very confused readers. The Portland Trailblazers!? How can they be the best team in the playoffs when they don’t have the best record, playoff accomplishments or even the best player? Well, while these assumptions are true, they do not necessarily make one team the best. To help explain, we have to go back to the 2018 playoffs.
This time last year, the Trailblazers were heading back to Portland, not to prepare for Round 2, but to watch the rest of the playoffs. Having been embarrassingly eliminated from the playoffs in a sweep by the 6-seeded Pelicans, Portland was not sure what to do. Rumors swirled. Would CJ McCollum be traded? Was Lillard the star to lead them to success? Was Terry Stotts capable of bringing this group together? However, instead of listening to the media, the Trailblazers went right back to work.
If the 2018-2019 campaign was to be successful in getting the Trailblazers back to the postseason and show the league that they were deserving of their respect, it all depended on player: Damian Lillard. Just like the Blazers, Lillard has been counted out more times than anyone else, attending Weber State and being snubbed from the all-star game twice. And when the Blazers lost, Lillard did not look to bail ship complain about his teammates, he accepted the loss and looked to improve his game.
This attitude of hard work carried over to the Blazers as a whole. CJ McCollum accepted his role as the second scorer and became the perfect balance to Lillard, when it could have been easy for him to demand a trade to another team where he could be the star. McCollum has sacrificed his stats for the overall team success, which is the true definition of a team player. Al Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, and Jusuf Nurkic formed a lengthy frontcourt that could keep up with any team. The Blazers played well throughout the NBA season and had positioned themselves for another postseason run, but a moment that makes or breaks a team occurred on March 25. In a 2OT game against the Nets, Nurkic went down with a gruesome leg injury. Unfortunately for the Blazers, the news came back that he would miss the rest of the regular season and the entirety of the playoffs. A massive blow, the Blazers took the loss in stride, with the next man up attitude. Enes Kanter, who had been signed a month earlier, stepped into the starting role and the Blazers did not miss a beat, going 6-2 in the final 8 games and grabbing the 3-seed.
While the players had a tremendous impact on the Blazers’ success, an overlooked person has been head coach Terry Stotts. After the early exit in the 2018 playoffs a lot of blame fell on Stotts, but he owned up to it. He had the Blazers prepared for the 2018-2019 season and what pressures the team would face after a disappointing postseason. He gave the players his trust and the Blazers showed that they were ready to return to the postseason. This is why the Blazers don’t have any of the player-coach discrepancies that have been prevalent in the NBA: Stotts and his players all understand each other.So sure, the Blazers may not have the best players, best record, or even best home court, but the Blazers are the best constructed team in this year’s playoffs. They are back in the 3-seed, but instead of falling down 0-3, have taken a commanding 3-1 lead against the Thunder. The Trailblazers have defied the odds to be in the position they are now, and they just might keep silencing the doubters, if they continue to play as the best team.