PORTLAND, Ore. — LeBron James and the Lakers will strut into the Moda Center one week from today to face the Trail Blazers in Portland's season opener. It's time to check in on the Blazers with a season preview edition of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast.
It's crystal ball time! How many wins for the Blazers? Will they make the playoffs? Which players or teams will surprise the NBA this season? And who's going to win all the major awards?
Read our answers below and don't forget to check out the podcast! It has even MORE content, including a SUPER-SIZE edition of 3-on-3 Blazers podcast game "Rip It!"
LISTEN: 3-on-3 Blazers podcast
1. The Blazers won 49 games last year, which was good enough to be the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. How will the Blazers fare this season? How many wins? Do they make the playoffs? If so, what seed? Who else makes the playoffs in the Western Conference?
Nate: I don’t think the Blazers will win as many games as last season, but I do still have them in the postseason. But as the No. 8 seed with 45 wins, which means they’ll be facing the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs and could go down a road that finishes with 14 straight playoff losses. I think the Western Conference will be just as competitive as it was last year, if not more so, and I don’t see the Blazers having another 13-game winning streak like they did last season. They’re still a decent team and 45 wins isn’t anything to scoff at. But I think they’ll be closer to missing the playoffs than being the No. 3 seed again. In order, I believe these are the seven other Western Conference teams that will make the playoffs: Warriors, Rockets, Lakers, Jazz, Thunder, Nuggets and Pelicans.
Jared: My predictions are based on a healthy Blazers team, like they’ve been the past few seasons. I predict both CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic will be better than last season and Damian Lillard will at least maintain his level of play. I think the production level of those three alone will be enough to keep the Blazers on pace with last season’s regular-season performance. Al-Farouq Aminu is a steady presence for Portland and if the Blazers get a breakout season from a player like Zach Collins or Maurice Harkless, the team could be better than last season, though I don't see that as the most probable outcome. I think the West will be more difficult this season, primarily because I don't think we'll see as many injuries to major players on playoff contending teams as last season. I’ll predict a dip in Portland's win total for that reason. My prediction is 46 wins for the Blazers. That total will earn Portland the sixth seed in a Western Conference that’s going to beat up on each other all season. Here are my Western Conference playoff seeding predictions (also based on minimal future injuries for each team): (1) Warriors; (2) Rockets; (3) Jazz; (4) Pelicans; (5) Lakers; (6) Blazers; (7) Nuggets; (8) Thunder.
Orlando: The Blazers didn’t get worse over the summer and they didn’t get significantly better. Portland is banking on development and experience, with nearly the same roster from a season ago. As usual, the West is loaded up top, but I expect a tight race from 4-10 in the conference standings. The Blazers will fall somewhere in that discussion. Last season was special, with three wins separating third from ninth. I don’t think it will be that close this season. The Blazers win 45 games, good enough to make the playoffs — likely in the sixth to seventh seed range.
2. One of the best parts about the beginning of the season is the unknown. A team or player always seems to come out of nowhere and have a great season. For example, Lou Williams averaged 22 points per game last season and the Utah Jazz surged in the second half of the season into the second round of the playoffs. What team or player will break out this season? Alternatively, which team or player will not live up to expectations?
Jared: My breakout player prediction is Lakers forward Brandon Ingram. He showed flashes last season for a mediocre Lakers team. Entering his third season in the league, I predict Ingram will average more than 20 points, with six or seven rebounds and more than a steal and block per game. I predict the Mavericks will surprise this season, sticking around .500 most of the season and challenging for a playoff spot until the end of the season. Dallas has a good starting lineup — Dennis Smith Jr., Luka Doncic, Wes Matthews, Harrison Barnes and DeAndre Jordan. Their bench isn’t very good, but I still see the Mavericks flirting with 40 wins this season. As for teams that fail to live up to expectations? I think the Spurs will struggle because of a lack of outside shooting and a legitimate starting point guard. And I don't see the Timberwolves recovering from the Jimmy Butler saga.
Orlando: This will be interesting to see how the West unfolds. With LeBron in LA, the Lakers will have to bump a team out. With the recent drama surrounding the Minnesota Timberwolves and Jimmy Butler, they’re the perfect candidate to take a step back. There is something special brewing in Utah. This team is young, has depth, plays defense and Donovan Mitchell will be an All-Star. A healthy Rudy Gobert and Utah could contend for the three seed. Out East, I like the Milwaukee Bucks as the team to make a push towards the top of the conference. They won 44 games last year, I think they’re hitting 50 this year. New head coach, a superstar MVP candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo and a supporting cast in Middleton and Bledsoe, this team has the tools to make significant strides this season.
Nate: My breakout player is going to be Zach Lavine. He’s had flashes of brilliance throughout his short career but injures have hampered him over the last two seasons. I think he stays healthy this year, makes the All-Star team and leads to the Bulls to a much-improved season, potentially into the postseason. As for not living up to expectations, I’m going to go with the Milwaukee Bucks. There’s an expectation, that with LeBron James in the Western Conference, the Bucks should be a team that reaches another tier in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks teetered a few games above .500 last season and I think it will be the same this year. Giannis is great, but I’m still not convinced this roster, especially with the backcourt of Malcolm Brogdon and Eric Bledsoe, is ready to take the next step.
3. Championship and awards time! We did this last year and it did not go well (someone picked Kawhi Leonard for MVP). Let’s see if we do better this year. Which team hoists the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the year? Who wins the MVP, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year awards?
Orlando: Champion: Golden State Warriors
MVP: LeBron James
ROY: Luka Doncic
MIP: Jayson Tatum
6th Man: Eric Gordon
Nate: The Warriors will win the title for the fourth time in five years. The only team with a chance to beat them this season is the Celtics. Speaking of Boston, I think they’re going to have a monster season and dominate the Eastern Conference. With that in mind, I’m going to pick Kyrie Irving to win MVP this season. I’ll go with Mavericks guard Luka Doncic to win Rookie of the Year. I’m going to stay in the Western Conference for Most Improved Player and pick Brandon Ingram. I think he’ll be the biggest beneficiary of LeBron James joining the Lakers. For sixth man, I’m going to go with Isaiah Thomas. I think he’s motivated to prove himself again after last season and he’s had previous success with head coach Mike Malone.
Jared: I'll raise my hand and take the hit. I was the one that picked Kawhi Leonard for MVP last season. Shame on me. Wouldn't it be funny if I picked him again this season? I won't. But I do think he'll be great in Toronto. My MVP pick is LeBron James. He'll be in the spotlight more than ever now that he's playing in LA and the Western Conference, and he'll rise to the occasion, carrying a young, oddly constructed Lakers roster to the playoffs. My pick for Rookie of the Year is Mavericks guard Luka Doncic. He's the best player in this class and I don't think it's close. My pick for Most Improved Player is Pacers center Myles Turner, who should bounce back after a down season. I'm picking Clippers guard Lou Williams as my Sixth Man of the Year. And the Warriors will win it all again.
You can submit questions for Nate, Orlando and Jared to answer during the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast by clicking here.
MEET THE 3-ON-3 BLAZERS TEAM
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 and other topics for KGW.com. Jared has written about the Jazz and 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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