The Portland Trail Blazers have been central to a large amount of discussion about the NBA's restart. After battling injuries all season, the Blazers are fully healthy and making a serious run to earn the eight seed in the league's new play-in game setup that will come this weekend. Damian Lillard is doing Damian Lillard stuff, Carmelo Anthony is a contributing member to a winning team, and Jusuf Nurkic looks great after missing a year due to a devastating leg injury.
This has gotten everybody all worked up about the possibility of a Blazers' playoff run, especially in tandem with the Los Angeles Lakers' struggles in the bubble. Colin Cowherd even went so far as to say Portland would be the best eighth seed ever if they did manage to claw their way into the playoff picture, which is not a guarantee by any means right now.
I guess Cowherd forgot about the We Believe Warriors in '07, or the Denver Nuggets back in '92, or any other eight seed that has actually done the extremely unlikely and taken down the best team in their conference in the first round of the playoffs. The Blazers can't be the best eight seed ever if they don't actually win.
But that's not really the point. The Blazers have the talent to be a troublesome eight seed, but their defense is so porous that it would take more luck than skill to pull off any upset at all. Such is life when you're giving Melo 30 minutes a game. It is strange to me, though, that all attention is being directed towards Portland when the team that would be right in front of them in the playoffs is far, far more dangerous. Is there any reason in particular that the Dallas Mavericks are more or less being ignored as a seven-seed putting on an upset special?
This site has done its job in that regard, as Stephen Douglas eloquently wrote about how the Mavs could win it all over the weekend. But I don't know if it's because seventh-seed upsets aren't as sexy as the eight-seed upset, or if everyone is already suffering from some kind of fatigue regarding Luka Doncic's consistent excellence. All I do know is that everyone in the bubble would rather play the Blazers than the Mavs, no matter how historically great a low seed Portland can be.
It already seems like the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Clippers are jockeying for position to avoid playing Dallas. As things currently stand, the Clippers have a one-game lead over Denver for the two-seed and a first-round date with the Mavs. Doc Rivers appeared to do everything he could to lose the Clippers' game against Portland over the weekend by sitting Paul George for the final four minutes of the game, then didn't play George at all in a loss to the Nets on Sunday night. The Nuggets, meanwhile, played Nikola Jokic for only 24 minutes in a single-digit loss to Portland before squeaking out an OT win over a Jazz team missing Rudy Gobert. They'll never admit they were actively trying to lose, but evidence suggests they weren't exactly trying to win at certain points, either.
And it's hard to blame them! Only two days ago, Doncic posted a triple-double while slicing and dicing the league's best defense in a close loss to the Bucks. He's a legitimate MVP candidate as a second-year player. The Mavs have their flaws as a team, which is why they're the seventh-seed, but as you are reminded every 15 seconds or so, these are unprecedented times. No one wants to play the transcendent talent in a year where anything goes.
In recent history, it's actually been harder to win a playoff series as a seven-seed rather than an eight-seed. Since the format changed to a seven-game series (instead of five) two eighth seeds have advanced to the second round: the aforementioned 2007 Warriors and the Memphis Grizzlies in 2012. There has only been one seven seed to advance, the San Antonio Spurs beating the Mavericks in 2010. Yet there's no talk of the 2020 Mavs being the best seven-seed ever, is there?
It's just confusing. The Blazers are a bit of a better story, but a far worse team and will, in all likelihood, represent an easy out for their first-round opponent. That's anything but the case with Doncic and his team. I guess we'll have to wait for the playoffs to start for everyone to figure that out.