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PORTLAND, Ore. — With Portland still basking in the glow of CJ McCollum's 50-point performance on Wednesday night, it's time to check in on the Blazers with another edition of 3-on-3, a weekly KGW feature.
This week's questions focus on the upcoming trade deadline, injuries in the Western Conference and predictions for the next three games.
1. We’re just a week away from the trade deadline and the rumors are sure to heat up. Some teams have sat players they’ll likely move and we’ve already seen one blockbuster deal involving an All-Star. But activity on the Blazers front appears to be pretty quiet. Do you think Portland will make any moves before the deadline? If so, who is on their way out and who is joining Rip City?
Orlando: It’s been pretty quiet in Portland, but that doesn’t mean the Blazers and General Manager Neil Olshey aren’t trying to make a move before the February 8 trade deadline. The Blazers brass usually keeps things close to the vest, so don’t be surprised if things escalate quickly. Before the season started, most of us believed the Blazers “Big 3” were untouchable, but that may not be the case (for players not named Damian Lillard). I do think it would take something special to break up the band and I don’t think that exists right now, but I think they’re game to make a deal. Especially if reports like Marc Stein’s are true that the Blazers were trying to engage in trade talks for Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan. Something more realistic for the Blazers probably doesn’t involve a blockbuster deal, but with Portland’s role players. Remember this time last year? The Blazers traded Mason Plumlee for Jusuf Nurkic. Portland’s recent success does make it feel like a trade is less likely to happen, but a week is a long time to go.
Nate: I don't see the Blazers making any major moves before the deadline. Based on the Griffin and Mirotic deals, it's clear the Blazers don't have the assets to make a major deal and are hesitant to give away a first-round pick. That makes sense considering the only way the Blazers will probably be able to get rid of the contracts of Evan Turner, Maurice Harkless or Meyers Leonard is to attach a first-round pick with them in a deal. With all that said, I think the Blazes will make a minor deal to move Ed Davis or Noah Vonleh. Right now, the Blazers are $3 million over the luxury tax line. If they were able to trade one of those players, both of whom are free agents this offseason, then the front office could save the extra money hit and put off the potential of being a repeat offender in the future.
Jared: The Blazers need more shooting and an upgrade at the wing. Those are valuable commodities that won't come cheap. Are the Blazers willing to part with draft assets or their most valuable players to make something like that happen? Probably not. I don't think CJ McCollum is going anywhere and I’d be surprised to see Neil Olshey give up a first-round pick in any trade that doesn't bring back a star player. The Blazers may shop Jusuf Nurkic or Shabazz Napier to see what kind of value they have, but I think the chance of them moving either of those players is not high. One move I do think the Blazers will make is a deal that gets them below the luxury tax threshold. They're $2.9 million above the tax line right now. Trading a player like Noah Vonleh and his $3.5 million salary to a team that has the necessary cap space to absorb his salary without having to send back matching salary is the easiest way to do that. I expect to see that happen, but probably not much else. (Story continues below)
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2. Several teams in the Western Conference have seen a major roster change, via injury or trade, over the last week. The Pelicans lost DeMarcus Cousins for the rest of the season, Thunder defensive specialist Andre Roberson also suffered a season-ending knee injury, and the Clippers traded Blake Griffin. Meanwhile, the Blazers have won their last four games and seven of their last eight. Has what happened over the last week changed your perspective on how they will finish the season?
Nate: What's transpired over the last week has undoubtedly been in favor of the Blazers. The Clippers trading Griffin likely means there are now just eight teams in the Western Conference competing for eight playoff spots. So then it's all about seeding. The Blazers want to avoid the seven and eight positions so they don't have to play the Warriors or Rockets in the first round. Given the recent changes, I think it's much more likely the Blazers get the five seed or six seed and avoid the juggernaut first-round series. Right now, they're the six seed and closer to the four seed than the eight. A potential matchup with the Spurs, who are currently the No. 3 seed with the health of their star player unknown, or the Timberwolves is a much more competitive series for the Blazers. And if Portland continues their recent strong play for the rest of the season, maybe we'll see those series as winnable come April.
Jared: We'll see what those teams do between now and the trade deadline. The Pelicans already shored up their frontcourt by acquiring Nikola Mirotic, who was mentioned last month as a possible trade target of the Blazers. They may also sign Greg Monroe. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Thunder and Clippers make another move or two before the deadline, as well. So we'll see what those teams look like a week from now. Regardless, the Blazers should worry only about what they can control and that's their own performance. They are coming off their best month of the season and their February schedule looks pretty favorable, but looking at the big picture, barring a major trade in the next week, my perspective hasn't changed that much. Considering the Blazers' challenging schedule in March and April, I think Portland is still probably a team that will finish with 45 wins or so and challenge for the sixth or seventh seed.
Orlando: The Blazers are on a roll. They’re winning at home (eight straight wins) and they’re beating teams with sub-.500 records. It also helps to catch a break along the way, like facing teams missing their top players (Bulls, Clippers, Timberwolves). Winning seven out of their last eight puts them back on track to where I thought they would be at the beginning of the year, a team that can win 45 or more games this season. There’s no doubt the Blazers are clicking, but we’ll have a much better idea just how much they have turned the corner this week when the competition elevates with a 3-game road trip to the East.
3. Prediction time! The Blazers play three games between now and when we meet again next week. All three are on the road against Eastern Conference teams. First up is the Raptors (34-15) on Friday, followed by Boston (37-15) on Sunday. The Blazers finish the road trip at Detroit (23-26) on Monday. Who will the Blazers beat and who will they lose to?
- Jared: 34-17
- Nate: 33-18
- Orlando: 33-18
Jared: The Raptors rank fourth in the NBA in offense and third in defense. Even with the Raptors playing the second game of a road-to-home back to back, I still think this is too tough a test for Portland. Raptors win. The Celtics are still a good team, but they might be without Kyrie Irving (right quad contusion) and Marcus Smart (right hand laceration) on Sunday. They were an intriguing team in January, ranking as the worst team in the NBA on offense and the best on defense. With Irving's status uncertain, I'm going to give the slightest edge to the Blazers and pick them to win in Boston. With the Pistons, you throw out everything you know about them because they've replaced Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley with Blake Griffin. The frontcourt of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond seems like a nightmare matchup for the Blazers, who are also playing the second of a back-to-back while the Pistons will be rested. I'm picking Detroit.
Orlando: This week’s schedule is rough with games against the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. If the Blazers can split these two games, I’ll call it a success. The last time the Blazers beat the Raptors was March 15, 2015. That’s five straight for the Raptors. You can add one more to the streak on Friday. The Celtics have hit a bit of a rough patch dropping five of eight. Kyrie Irving (bruised quad) should be all good by Sunday’s game. This could be an odd game; it’s Super Bowl Sunday and that means an early start. The game has a 9 a.m. Pacific tip-off. I’ll take the East’s top team for the dub. I think Portland closes out the road trip on a positive note with a win over the Pistons who are still getting used to having Blake Griffin on the squad. It’s a 1-2 kind of week for the Blazers.
Nate: I think the Blazers will go 1-2 over the next three games. The Blazers have played well as of late but the Raptors and Celtics will be real tests to see how much progress Portland has made. I think the Raptors win handily. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry typically play well against the Blazers’ backcourt. I expect the game against Boston to be close, but the Celtics pull out the win at the end. Despite the acquisition of Blake Griffin and the difficult matchup he presents to Portland, I think the Blazers will knock off the Pistons. If the Blazers can get through these three games with a winning record, it's a superb trip.
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WHAT IS 3-ON-3 BLAZERS?
Every Thursday, three members of the KGW sports team will answer three questions about the Blazers. You can join the conversation on Facebook during a live chat with our panel every Thursday afternoon at 3. Can't join us on Thursday? Not a problem. You can listen later on the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast.
MEET OUR PANELISTS
- Orlando Sanchez is the sports anchor and reporter for KGW News, Sports Sunday and Friday Night Flights. Orlando has covered multiple NBA Finals, NCAA Basketball Tournaments and World Series.
- Jared Cowley is a digital media producer who writes about the Blazers for KGW.com. Before he came to KGW, Jared wrote about the Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors as a sports editor at two daily newspapers.
- Nate Hanson is a digital producer who contributes to KGW.com’s coverage of the Blazers, Ducks, Beavers and high school sports.
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