PORTLAND, Ore. — If you believe Charles Barkley, it's going to be a fun postseason for Trail Blazers fans.
The Hall of Famer and analyst on "Inside the NBA" on TNT, doubled down Sunday on his March prediction that Portland will reach the Western Conference Finals.
"I tell you what, I'm all in on the Trail Blazers," Barkley said after the Blazers' 104-99 win in Game 1 of their first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"I like Portland. I thought before [Jusuf] Nurkic got hurt, they had a chance of winning the West. ... I still think so."
Barkley had particular praise for Blazers center Enes Kanter, who had 20 points, 18 rebounds and two blocks in the Game 1 win.
"You hear all these guys ... talk about Kanter, 'He's not a great defender,'" Barkley said. "There's been really good players in the NBA who weren't great defenders. That guy is going to get you a double-double every night. All these people talk about what guys can't do, instead of what they can do."
(Story continues below)
Listen to the most recent edition of the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast:
Barkley wasn't the only pundit to float the idea of a Western Conference Finals run for the Blazers.
Justin Verrier, senior NBA editor for The Ringer, also floated the idea of Portland in the West finals, based on Kanter's emergence and the fact that the Blazers' side of the Western Conference playoff bracket doesn't include the Rockets or the Warriors. If Portland gets past the Thunder, they'd instead face either the Nuggets or Spurs.
"Knicks castoff Enes Kanter may hold the keys to a Western Conference finals berth," Verrier wrote. "If Kanter can continue to provide 30ish credible minutes, Portland could coast past OKC. ... And while a date with Denver may not be as easy (the Blazers were 1-3 against them during the regular season), it's hard to envision the Spurs keeping up in a track meet with the league's third-best offense."
McCollum did it, Jennifer
Royce Young, an NBA writer for ESPN, opened the postgame media availability with Trail Blazers star guard CJ McCollum by asking him about an old friend.
"CJ, do you have anything you'd like to say to Jennifer?" Young asked, drawing laughs from McCollum and the assembled media.
In August 2018, after McCollum questioned the validity of super teams during an interview on Chinese network CCTV, a Twitter user named Jennifer Williams pushed back, tweeting at McCollum to "win a playoff game then talk." McCollum, well aware of the Blazers' then-10-game playoff losing streak, responded with, "I'm trying Jennifer."
The exchange sparked an army of memes, an #ImTryingJennifer hashtag, and even some novelty T-shirts.
Eight months later, after the Blazers finally won a playoff game, McCollum responded to Young's query. "I appreciate her," he said. "She's probably a nice young lady."
Before that question was posed, Williams had tweeted after Portland's win, "You're welcome Portland."
McCollum tweeted at Jennifer that he had almost forgot about her and called here a legend.
Paul Allen's sister in attendance
The Athletic's Jason Quick, who has covered the Trail Blazers for 20 seasons, wrote about Jody Allen, the sister of late Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen.
Jody Allen, who assumed control of the team after Allen's death, was in attendance at Game 1, the first Blazers game she's attended since her brother died shortly before the 2018-19 season began.
Allen told Quick that the game was "fantastic" and "amazing," but said attending the game made her miss her brother.
"I'm really, really proud to be here, but I have to say, I also really miss my brother. He would have loved to be in that seat next to me," she told Quick.
Quick wrote that Jody Allen's attendance at Game 1 represented something special for this franchise.
"There was something about Sunday that felt special," Quick wrote. "It was a colliding of the past, the present and the future. Paul Allen was honored, the team won its biggest game in years and the new owner left touched and inspired. For a night, Rip City never felt pointed in a better direction."
Can't play Kanter?
ESPN's Kevin Pelton wrote about Kanter and his history with the Thunder.
Kanter played 180 games for Oklahoma City from 2015 to 2017. During Game 1 of a 2017 first-round series loss to the Rockets, Thunder coach Billy Donovan was apparently caught on camera saying "can't play Kanter" to an assistant coach.
Pelton writes that Donovan later explained after the clip went viral that he was "talking about playing Kanter in certain defensive coverages," and Kanter told Pelton after Game 1 on Sunday that he believed his former coach.
Regardless, that infamous clip has served as fodder for critics of Kanter, who argue that his defensive limitations negate his strengths as a low-post scorer and rebounder.
After Game 1, Pelton asked Terry Stotts, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum about Kanter's defense after the game and all three praised Kanter's effort and communication on the defensive end.
Pelton said against the Thunder on Sunday, Kanter "more than held his own" on defense.
Kanter's reputation has been as a center incapable of defending the pick-and-roll, but on Sunday, the Thunder "scored just .81 points per chance in pick-and-rolls involving Kanter, according to Second Spectrum tracking, as compared to the Thunder's average of .91 points per chance during the regular season. ... As a result, on Sunday, the Blazers not only could play Kanter but also needed him on the court to beat the Thunder," Pelton wrote.
George's shoulder looms large
Brett Dawson, who covers the Thunder for The Athletic, wrote about Paul George, his poor shooting in Game 1, and how his lingering shoulder soreness looms over this series (subscription required).
Dawson called George's right shoulder "perhaps the most important body part of this series." George scored 26 points Sunday but missed 16 of his 24 shots, including 11 of 15 from behind the 3-point line.
After the game, George said he couldn't even lift his shoulder four days ago, and said that his poor shooting performance wasn't because of shoulder pain or tightness, but because of "rhythm."
George has been playing with shoulder soreness since late February. He missed four games because of it and after starting the season shooting 45% from the field and 41% from the 3-point line through the Thunder's first 56 games, he slumped in Oklahoma City's final 26 games, making 40% of his field goals and 33% of his 3-point attempts.
George's declining efficiency affected the Thunder's performance. After starting the season 37-19, the Thunder stumbled to a 12-14 finish.
According to Dawson, George is the key to a series win for the Thunder.
"If he doesn't make them moving forward, the Thunder face an uphill climb in the series," he wrote. "In the 39 regular-season games when George made at least 40 percent of his 3-pointers, the Thunder were 28-11. In the 10 games he shot 30 percent or worse from 3-point range, OKC was 10-11."