Lillard emerged as a real star of the NBA last season with multiple highlight plays…
The Portland Trail Blazers exceeded all expectations last season and were mightily impressive, the question is whether or not they can repeat that success?
The Blazers led the Western Conference for much of the start of the season and although they suffered an expected dip thereafter, they still finished the regular season with an impressive 54-28 record.
A first playoff series win since 2000 followed which played host to that magical three from Damian Lillard against the Houston Rockets in Game 6, but the San Antonio Spurs were a step too far for Terry Stotts and his men.
Nevertheless, it was potentially the start of something special in Portland, and they have certainly set the bar high for this season which could either be a positive or negative thing depending on how they embrace it.
Can the Blazers repeat their success from last season with essentially the same team?
Portland enjoyed a relatively injury-free season with regards to their star players last year, with the Lillard-Matthews-Batum-Aldridge and Lopez starting five providing stability and productivity on a consistent basis.
However, it remains to be seen if that five-some can steer clear of injuries for a second consecutive season and if they do fall short of reaching the heady heights of last year, can the bench step up and give them support?
Mo Williams has departed with Steve Blake coming in to replace him which seems a beneficial move, while Chris Kaman has also been added to the roster to add some depth.
Nevertheless, the likes of Will Barton, Meyers Leonard and C.J McCollum still have much to prove and they will be looking to start afresh this season and make a significant impact.
Regardless, the biggest factor in whether or not Portland remain successful this year is the form of Lillard and Aldridge in particular. Lillard has emerged as a real star of the league, particularly thriving in big moments as he proved against the Rockets, while Aldridge is a pillar of the franchise that excelled last season.
That shouldn’t take away from the defensive protection offered by Robin Lopez and the key contributions from Batum and Matthews, but with Lillard averaging 20.7 points and 5.6 assists per game along with Aldridge’s 23.2 points and 11.1 rebounds, they will be the foundations of the Blazers’ success.
Offense wasn’t an issue last year as the Blazers ranked fourth in the West with 106.7 points per game, but they will need to improve defensively as their 102.8 points against per game was the second most of the eight teams that advanced to the playoffs.
Aside from the loss of Williams, this roster is the same as last year and just as the San Antonio Spurs have proven over the years, familiarity, stability and knowing your role on a team are key ingredients for success.
After dealing with a dip in form and finishing with a 50-win season, the Blazers proved that their early form was no fluke. However, as mentioned above, they had a huge helping hand in that none of their star players were sidelined for long with injuries.
As a result, they can harbour realistic hopes of competing in the middle bunch of the top eight in the Western Conference again, as they perhaps haven’t yet got enough to step up a level and mix it with the likes of the Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers over the course of an 82-game season. However, they certainly do have enough to aim for as high as fourth spot, and they will be in and around that race come crunch time.
With Lillard taking his game to the next level and using the confidence he gained last season, Portland could be an extremely dangerous prospect in the playoffs next year.
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: Wesley Matthew
SF: Nicolas Batum
PF: LeMarcus Aldridge
C: Robin Lopez
Sixth Man: Steve Blake