The biggest thing the Trail Blazers need to do this year is remember when the season actually starts. They were a complete mess for most of the first half of the season last year - they had just 14 wins in their first 35 games and looked like they were heading deep into lottery territory. But then they started to actually play, and things changed dramatically. They closed out with 17 wins in their final 28 games, grabbed a fifth seed in the playoffs, and beat the disappointing Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. They gave the Warriors a pretty solid test in the second round, too. Their recovery from a horrible start was impressive, but they can't rely on that happening again - not in the West. They need to carry their momentum forward and build on what they did last year.
2016 Portland Trail Blazers Betting Storylines
Having a guy like Damian Lillard on this team is mostly a gift, but it's a bit of a curse, too. He has emerged as a top-flight point guard, and with C.J. McCollum he forms one of the better backcourts in the league. That's all very good - and by far the biggest reason this team succeeds. The biggest issue, though, is that the squad knows how good Lillard is, and they too often let his performance dictate their performance. If Lillard is having a big day then the team rallies around him. When he struggles, though, the team too often struggles right beside him. Lillard is a true superstar, but to take a step beyond where they are the team needs to succeed beyond their superstar - not entirely because of him. They also continue to do a lousy job of providing good options to replace him when he is unable to play or he needs a rest - Shabazz Napier is in no way a worthy substitute.
Last year the team did what they did despite being majorly depleted over the summer - LaMarcus Aldridge got the headlines for heading to San Antonio, but the losses of Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez were significant as well. That's a serious blow to the core of a team. This year the changes weren't nearly as significant, and the new core beyond Lillard and McCollum - guys like Al-Farouq Aminu, Meyers Leonard, Moe Harkless and others - have had a chance to grow into their roles and accept their new reality. It should make things much smoother out of the gate - which in turn will make it much easier to compete with Oklahoma City and potential upstart Utah for divisional supremacy.
If there is an area where the team is a concern, it's defensively. Aminu is a great defensive presence, and new addition Evan Turner, who otherwise seems like an odd fit, plays defense well. The two guards are subpar defensively, though, and the rest of the roster leaves a lot to be desired when they don't have the ball. In a conference with so many teams that both can score a pile and can play some pretty solid defense at times this is a real concern. It won't make it impossible for the team to win plenty - 50 wins is certainly in range - but it sure makes it harder to imagine the team progressing beyond the second round of the playoffs unless circumstances really fall in their favor.
2016 Portland Trail Blazers Additions and Departures
The biggest focus for the team this offseason was not on adding significant new talent but rather locking up their core for longer. They saw Cliff Alexander, Gerald Henderson, Chris Kaman and Brian Roberts move on. They mostly added reasonably-priced options - Napier and Turner cost little, and Festus Ezeli has a very favorable contract next year.
They didn't have a draft pick of their own this year, but they added second-round small forward Jake Layman from Maryland in a minor trade.
2016 Portland Trail Blazers Futures Odds and Trends
The Trail Blazers were eerily consistent for bettors. Their record was 44-38. They were a decently profitable 44-38 ATS. And, you guessed it, they went "over" the total in 44 games and under in 38. It wasn't just the regular season, either. They were 5-6 in the playoffs and 5-6 ATS. Breaking the trend, though, the over went 6-5 on the total.
Portland Trail Blazers Futures Odds (from Bovada)
NBA title odds : +7500
Western Conference title odds : +5000
Damian Lillard MVP Odds : +3300
Season win total (from Westgate): 46.5
2016 Portland Trail Blazers Predictions and Futures Odds Picks
The second half of last season last year was a better indication of what this team is than the first half. I like how they invested in their core instead of trying for quick fixes. I expect them to flirt with 50 wins, which should put them in the mix to win the division. Ultimately I see them finishing second behind Oklahoma City and giving someone a good fight in the playoffs. A solid, honest team that will be fun to watch but which will ultimately be limited by their defensive shortcomings.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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