Trail Blazers: Northwest Division Race is Wide Open

Trail Blazers Thunder

Apr 6, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) and Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter (11) go after a loose ball during the fourth quarter of the game at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. The Blazers won the game 120-115. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Although not guaranteed anymore- The Northwest Division Winner will likely host a first round playoff series

Does anyone really care about NBA divisions anymore? The Portland Trail Blazers were definitely responsible for the divisional winner no longer receiving a top-4 seed in the playoffs. The NBA changed the rule after Portland hosted a superior Memphis Grizzlies team in the first round of the 2015 playoffs. So, what’s the point of divisions?

The divisions are now just a way to make sure the teams closest in proximity play each other more often, igniting rivalries and saving on travel expenses. However, it’s still a fun claim to win your division. Generally, division winners end up being a top-4 seed in their respective conference regardless. This year should be no different. The Trail Blazers’ 2014-2015 season was an anomaly and not the norm.

The Warriors, Spurs and Clippers are going to be the top-3 teams in the Western Conference barring serious injuries. The fourth place team in the Western Conference will likely come from the Northwest Division. As we have discussed before, the division is wide open. The Timberwolves had the 2nd best odds in the division at winning an NBA championship before the season started. If the Trail Blazers want to host a first round playoff series – they will need to beat out the other four teams in the Northwest Division.

After the first week of action – here’s how the division performed:

Trail Blazers Westbrook

Oct 30, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) drives to the basket against Los Angeles Lakers forward Nick Young (0) during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Thunder

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder (3-0)

Oklahoma City might legitimately have played the three worst teams in the NBA. A schedule comprised of the 76ers, Suns and Lakers is a nice treat for an opening week. It’s tough to tell whether the Thunder will be fine without Kevin Durant or if they are just good at picking on young teams. The only thing we know about OKC for certain – Russell Westbrook has a legitimate shot to become the 2nd player ever to average a triple-double for an entire season.

  1. Portland Trail Blazers (2-1)

Portland suffered emotional defeat to the Clippers on national television Thursday night. It seemed like the lingering effects were going to do them in against the Nuggets Saturday as the team went flat during the third quarter. However, Damian Lillard snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat with a game-winner in overtime. The Nuggets really should have finished the Blazers off during regulation and overtime. If the Trail Blazers finish the season a game above everyone else in the division, they will look back at this Nuggets game and count their blessings.

The Trail Blazers have their best shot at beating the super team tonight at the Moda Center. The Durant-led Warriors clearly haven’t gelled yet, but it is only a matter of time. After tonight, the Blazers hit the road for the rest of the week.

Trail Blazers Nuggets

Oct 29, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Portland Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu (8) drives to the net against Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried (35) in overtime at the Pepsi Center. The Trail Blazers won 115-113 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Rest of the Northwest Division

  1. Denver Nuggets (1-2)

An impressive road win to start the season was wiped away by Lillard. The Nuggets truly blew this one. Costly turnovers and poor shot selection late in regulation and overtime cost them a 2-0 start. Denver is going to be really tough this year. However, they surely will find themselves on the wrong end of close games. Last night’s heart breaker in Toronto makes it back-to-back games against legit playoff teams that Denver easily could have won.

Even though the Nuggets might go through some growing pains this season, I like their future. While the league zigged, they zagged. Their strength is playing two seven footers a majority of the time. Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic are going to be a major problem for opponents for a long time.

  1. Utah Jazz (1-2)

The Jazz are biding their time until Gordon Hayward gets back. Outside of Joe Johnson posting up the Trail Blazers’ guards, their offense does not look good. They need a versatile playmaker like Hayward in the lineup. Their best bet is to muck everything up and win defensive battles. They did so successfully once this week. Unfortunately, it only worked against the Lakers.

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves (0-2)

Some NBA pundits had the Timberwolves as a sure fire playoff team this year. The love fest with their young talent and Coach Thibs is on hold after the first week. They clearly still have some growing up to do. Like the Nuggets, they will be very tough to handle night-in-night-out. However, they probably don’t have enough to make a legitimate push for the playoffs. Let’s see how the Timberwolves respond with their first home games this week. It could be a different story this time next week.

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