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Wait Until Next Year: Looking Forward For The Blazers, by Chuck Strom

As expected, the Golden State Warriors rolled over the Portland Trail Blazers with such confidence that a concert was scheduled at Oracle Arena on the same night that a Game 5 would have taken place. The handwriting on the wall was evident after Game 1, when Portland guards Damon Lillard and CJ McCollum shot the lights out of the building and still came on the short end of a 121-109 score. Game 3 in Portland was closer, but the Blazers simply lacked the firepower and defense to stay with the Warriors for four quarters. A lot of Blazer fans threw in the towel at that point—Game 4 tickets were going as low as $40 on StubHub, an unheard-of bargain for NBA playoffs. The coup-de-grace blowout came as expected, and having witnessed on location such an ending to a season last year with the San Francisco Giants, I can understand why the missing Blazer fans couldn’t bear to watch.

Nevertheless, Blazer fans have reason to be optimistic for the future when center Jusuf Nurkic heals and returns next season. As a recent analysis in Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight suggests, Nurkic won’t solve all of the Blazers’ problems, but the 17-6 record they achieved with Nurkic on the floor was no accident. With reasonable injury luck, they should improve significantly on their 41-41 record this year, possibly reaching 50 victories apart from what they might achieve to upgrade the roster. The latter may be a challenge due to some high-priced underperformers on the Blazer payroll; I was shocked to learn not long ago that Portland owns the third-biggest payroll in the league. This is where the GM needs to go to work. The Blazers have already cut Festus Ezeli loose and saved most of the $8 million due to him in 2017/18, but at least another move will be necessary to enable the Blazers to find a defender or two who might keep opposing offenses minimally honest and relieve some of the pressure on Lillard and McCollum to be on fire every night. Such is my two-cent advice to the Portland front office.

In any case, Blazer fans should count their blessings. They could live in Sacramento, where Dante’s instruction still applies to its fans despite their wonderful new building: Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here.

One other note—prayers should be offered for Steve Kerr and his ailing back. Whatever you might think of the Warriors, Kerr does better than anyone in the coaching fraternity to represent what is good in the NBA, with the possible exception of Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs. His loss would be irreplaceable.

Chuck Strom

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