Lillard, Aldridge and Co. continue to see franchise records tumble.
It has been an impressive start to the season for the Portland Trail Blazers, but with sceptics still waiting for them to falter, what can they realistically achieve this year?
Point guard Damian Lillard has built on his Rookie of the Year season last year, while LaMarcus Aldridge is performing at an All-Star level again and have played integral roles in their progress.
Fanatix NBA experts Sumeet Paul and Scott Hazlewood discuss what the future holds for Terry Stotts and his men.
Scott Hazlewood: We are at the quarter mark of the NBA season and arguably the biggest surprise this season is the form of the Portland Trail Blazers. Most had them pegged to be a possible contender for the 7-8 playoff spots in the West this season. Could anybody have predicted Rip City would have the best record in the NBA after 25 games?
Sumeet Paul: Absolutely not. Portland have been incredible this year. Damian Lillard has built on his ROTY season and looks improved, while LaMarcus Aldridge is back at an All-Star level. I’ve been waiting for them to drop off the pace and I still believe they will at some point, but that shouldn’t take away from an impressive start to the season. Further, the manner in which they achieved it has captured the attention of the NBA, and they’ve been great to watch.
Leading the way in the league with 21 wins, can they be a genuine threat in the post-season even if they fall down the standings?
SH: To me the biggest question they face will be the mental battle that can only be found in the post-season. Yes playing back-to-back games on the road and against the better team in either conference can give you a sense of that, but the playoffs are a different animal all together.
However, they have been good at home and on the road, average a league best 107.9 points a game and are top 10 in rebounds and assists so the signs are there.
Aldridge and Lillard are the stars on the roster no doubt, but who else has impressed you so far this season?
SP: Although they perhaps lack a “superstar” at this stage, the likes of Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez have all contributed to the cause. Considering their three-point shooting so far this season, it really is a team effort and coach Terry Stotts deserves credit for putting it together. British star Joel Freeland is also getting minutes, and he has been yet another positive this year.
For all the praise so far this season though, what do you think they lack in terms of their roster aside from any potential mental barriers which could ultimately lead to a downfall of sort?
SH: This is only a slight concern at this stage, but perimeter defence would be a concern. Batum has good length for a small forward and can mark guys bigger than him and yes the Blazers have beaten a team like the Pacers who have amazing size all over the court.
However, the only team that has beaten the Trailblazers twice this season has been the Phoenix Suns. While they have also been a bit of a revelation this year, they have very good outside shooters, something that they did use to great affect against Portland. But part of that game plan is that the Suns have no real inside force that could match Aldridge and Lopez so why go in there.
SP: With their efficiency on the offensive end, Portland can give any team a real game on their night. Their ability to shoot lights out basketball from beyond the arc coupled with their presence inside make them a difficult proposition.
Aldridge and Lillard’s health will be key for them moving forward, but if they can maintain their consistency then the sky could well be the limit for Rip City although the strain of the post-season may come too soon this year as they continue to mature.