Look: whatever the Blazers do in the playoffs will be, at least to a degree, a surprise. They were a good team this year, a great one at times, but without their hefty defensive load-bearing beam of a man Jusuf Nurkic, the chances of them making some sort of deep, powerful run to the Finals feels a little faint.
But who honestly gives a shit. They play the games for a reason. For instance: In the last game of the season, the Blazers basically openly tried to lose, running out a six-man rotation comprised entirely of bench riders. That seemed intended to position themselves in the fourth seed and into a matchup against the Utah Jazz.
But the team didn't care, and behind an absurd heap of points from 19-year-old Anfernee Simons, the Blazers disregarded the cynical path wherein one seeks so-called "ideal matchups," crushed the Kings in the final moments of the game and earned themselves a date with the sixth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, a team stolen from our Pacific Northwest brothers and sisters in Seattle by fracking magnates.
I cannot speak for you, but as a lifelong Pacific Northwesterner, this theft has always irritated me. In a better world, this series wouldn't be some rinky-dink cross-country matchup, it would be a heated PNW showdown, replete with good, healthy SportsHate. The Blazers doing away with the fraudulent, stolen Thunder would, I think, be cathartic for the region. The blade of revenge for our terrible, smelly, yuppie-infested Seattle blood brothers lies in the Blazers' hands.
Not that that's all you would need for this one to be a festival of bad feelings.
Russell Westbrook, a dynamic player whose production is the ongoing subject of a thousand Master's theses about what a "Valuable NBA Player" is, REALLY brings it out of people, with his nonstop jackhammering at the rim, his total disregard for niceties, his truly bizarre outfits, whatever you can name. You will probably come to loathe and resent him. Just remember: it's not real, he's actually very nice, gives to charity, is kind to children.
Paul George is the Thunder's second or first best player, depending on what your Westbrook thesis says. He's a good defender and a productive player. It's… hard to get too mad about him, assuming you're not from Indiana. His shoulder also MIGHT be messed up, which is good for the Blazers, if you can bring yourself to take sips of pleasure from the cool burbling spring of another human being's physical suffering.
Steven Adams looks like a Karl Drogo (Kahl's brother). He's overrated, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Also playing for the Thunder and probably getting minutes: RAYMOND FELTON! Oh man, this is a real delight. Felton, you may remember, you probably remember, was on the Blazers after a lockout year. He was insanely out of shape and his play was just tremendously bad. The combination of pure individual loathing and the sweaty hormonal rush of sitting and watching playoff basketball will send insanely loud boos cascading towards the heavens every time he touches the ball. It's… Honestly, it's beautiful.
Without Nurk, the Blazers are in a tough spot, because there's a way to beat the Thunder but it's way harder without a big man. Westbrook can be baited into heaving up terrible shots if he get brickwalled at the rim, especially in a situation where his team is in high leverage, which is what the entire playoffs are. The problem is, the Blazers are short on rim protection with the Big Bosnian sitting on the bench with a fatty cast on, and so the chances of Westbrook playing himself kind of shorten out when he has a path to the rim.
The Thunder did sweep the Blazers in the season, but don't fret too much: The games weren't embarrassing or anything, and honestly the playoffs tend to be a weirder, more rigorously planned affairs than mid-season back-to-back brawls. Lillard should still have a big series (Westbrook is very bad at guarding shooters), and the Thunder aren't exactly deep. With Nurk, the Blazers would be the more complete, functional team, running up against big talents who tend towards messiness. As is, the matchup is more of a pair incomplete units mashing together and seeing how the coins flip. The whole matchup is drowning in chaos, really: Inconsistent players playing in uncertain and inconsistent times for their teams in a matchup neither of them expected they would be playing in. Feel the unknowable wash over you.