It’s important to remember that the Portland Trail Blazers weren’t built to be here.
Neil Olshey didn’t resort to full-blown tank mode after it became apparent LaMarcus Aldridge would leave the lush Pacific Northwest for greener basketball pastures. The Blazers agreed to a team-friendly deal with Al-Farouq Aminu just shortly after the clock struck midnight on July 1, nabbed Ed Davis under similar terms a couple days later, and even traded a late first-round pick for Mason Plumlee before free agency began.
Portland’s path to rebuilding was different than the Philadelphia 76ers’, basically, yet still marked by the same ethos: Step back now to leap forward later. Anyone in the organization who ever suggested otherwise was lying. The Blazers had no realistic ambitions of a playoff appearance when the season tipped off in late October, which is exactly why Terry Stotts’ team appeared so painfully overmatched in Game 1 of its first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Damian Lillard is a full-fledged star and CJ McCollum one of the game’s brightest young playmaking guards. Beyond their live-wire backcourt, though, the Blazers lack any player who’s ready to fill the role he’s suddenly been thrust into occupying on the postseason stage.
Doc Rivers and company understand the limits of Portland’s barely-evolved roster, and exploited them to supreme advantage in an impressive 115-95 victory on Sunday night at Staples Center. How? By forcing anyone other than Lillard and McCollum to beat them.