NBA training camps have started for over a week now, and players are starting to gain the needed steam for the upcoming season. As always, plenty of teams are under a ton of pressure – some need to defend their title, others need to progress, and some need to redeem themselves, like the Portland Trail Blazers.
So, how are they doing with two weeks left before the next go-around? Portland’s longtime superstar Damian Lillard gave the media a good update, and he liked what he saw in after their first practice back.
At the start of it, it was like a couple of guys lost the ball and just dribbling and attacking the rim, and the ball just flies out of bounds – we had three of those. And then it started to get competitive, we started to make shots. Everyone started to make shots. But the one thing that stood out to me was that everyone was in pretty good condition. Usually when we come back from off-season, guys don’t move that well, get tired, need a substitution. But now, once we started going, we started going … I was actually impressed. I like how we moving.Damian Lillard talks about his first practice before the 2020-21 season.
It’s a good sign for Blazer fans, who watched their team go through a mediocre 2019-20 campaign following an encouraging Western Conference finals trip in 2019.
Instead of pushing forward, the past season saw Portland be riddled with injuries and consistently perform poorly on defense (26th overall) without producing enough offense to fill the other glaring holes. In fact, at one point, the Blazers ranked 10th in the West playoff picture with just a month left in the regular season, and Lillard was also sidelined with an injury.
Weirdly enough, the COVID-19 hiatus helped Dame and the Blazers recalibrate. They made an impressive, hype-inducing, late-season run in the bubble to beat the odds and qualify for the playoffs, as led by Jusuf Nurkic’s return from injury and Lillard exploding for 42.0 points per game in an astounding six-game stretch. Dame was also named the ‘bubble’ MVP.
Then again, it was mostly for nothing since they didn’t make much noise in the postseason. Rip City got ripped apart by the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers through a 4-1, backdoor sweep in the opening round.
Will they be better in 2020-21?
Lillard’s tandem with CJ McCollum will continue to roll on. They are prolific and entertaining as ever but they’ve had a handful of downs too. Personally, I believe there are some good reasons to believe it’s time to split them up, but for now, let’s stick to the current set-up.
Portland will be parading Lillard and McCollum’s offensive prowess, Nurkic’s beefy and bruising presence in the paint, and a serviceable list of utility guys.
Aside from re-signing Carmelo Anthony, who played well in his ‘redeem season’ this past year, and getting back sharpshooter Rodney Hood off the IR, they added ‘3 and D’ specialist Robert Covington and athletic freak Derrick Jones Jr. Of course, there’s also the emergence Gary Trent Jr., their third-year guard who chipped in 16.9 points and 4.3 threes per contest in the seeding games.
However, while the guys they acquired are certainly intriguing, the West is just too tough. They’re not among the elites and the tier below isn’t really their surefire ranking as well.
We can expect the Blazers to be better than last season since they appear to be healthier now, but it’s tough to say they can compete with the two juggernaut LA teams, or maybe even the rising Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks.