With the NBA’s release of this season’s second-half schedule on Wednesday, the Trail Blazers officially have one fewer question to contend with. The schedule, originally broken into halves to allow flexibility for any COVID-19 related issues, now includes both of Portland’s previously postponed matchups with Memphis as part of their final 37 games in 67 days. Examining the schedule, several questions come to mind. What will be the most difficult stretch the team must navigate in their quest for a postseason birth? With key players expected back from injuries in the near future, when might we expect to see them during game action? Also, back-to-back against the Clippers and Nuggets? Really? With these questions and a few observations, let’s take a look at our Portland Trail Blazers second-half schedule breakdown.
Back to Backs Galore
One of the first things to jump off the page when going through this schedule is the number of back-to-back games the Blazers will play. There’s a lot.
The 10 total (five home, five away) are the second-most in the league after only seven such for Portland in the first half of the season. Of the five on the road, three will require travel from one state to another. Making things even more daunting, only two of the 10 total back-to-backs are followed by more than a single day of rest before the Blazers play again.
The one saving grace? All 10 are home/home or away/away back-to-backs. Mercifully, travel will be somewhat limited.
Mayday: This Looks Brutal
Considering the difficulty inherent to the NBA’s scheduling amidst the pandemic, most of Portland’s second-half schedule seems relatively normal.
Except for May.
The final stretch of the season will be Portland’s toughest of the year. At first glance, it’s intimidating. Starting the month with five games in seven nights (two home, three away), they’ll finish their campaign with a six-game gauntlet against the Lakers, Spurs, Rockets, Jazz, Suns, and Nuggets; at least five of which will likely be playoff teams or competing for the play-in. Upon second glance? Yep. Still intimidating.
They’ll need to be peaking at the right time.
The Trail Blazers, like all other 29 teams, remain unsure of what will happen if they’re forced to postpone additional matchups. With dates for the play-in games and postseason already established, would the league consider extending the regular season and delaying the playoffs? Will the NBA plug make-up games into the existing schedule, regardless of whether that places burdens on teams and players? Will certain teams not reach 72 games? These are the questions all teams and the league office will be busy figuring out.
For Portland, though, they have plenty of questions of their own.
CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic will both have their injuries reevaluated next week, at which point their return timetables will likely be more clear. How long will it take them to get back into rhythm, and where might the Blazers stand at that point? In the 17 games since McCollum’s injury, Damian Lillard is averaging 33 points in just over 35 minutes per game. While this amount of time on the floor is fairly consistent with his career average, his usage rate is the highest of his nine seasons. To compensate for the loss of Nurkic and McCollum, is Portland putting too heavy a burden on its franchise guard? Simply evaluating the construction of this roster once fully healthy, will the offseason additions of Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. be enough to make this team’s defense competitive in a seven-game playoff series?
The list of questions for the Trail Blazers is long. The remainder of the season, however, is not.
This will be a difficult stretch for the Blazers; playing 37 games in 67 days is taxing.
As we’ve discussed, Portland has plenty of issues beyond the normal demands of a compacted season; with the time to work out the kinks quickly dwindling. Can this team, when fully healthy, come together and be a contender? For head coach Terry Stotts, this is make-or-break territory. For Damian Lillard, this is the chance to cement his status as a legitimate MVP candidate.
The schedule is set. Now comes the fun part.