Professional basketball: It's back!
After a four-month layover to figure out how to finish the season in light of this whole coronavirus nuisance, the NBA has decided that, instead of playing in a packed home arena, most teams will retreat to the Walt Disney World resort in Orlando, Fla.—home of the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex—where they will live in hotels and play in gyms in front of television crews and no one else.
Is it a good idea? We'll leave that for another article. Because for our purposes, here's what matters: The Portland Trail Blazers are still in this thing!
When we last left our local squad, they sucked but not so bad that they didn't seem like they could scrounge together a good run and take a shot at qualifying for the playoffs. Also, Carmelo Anthony was on the team. You might have seen him at Canard.
Can they do it? We have reasons to feel optimistic—but also reasons to feel the opposite.
OPTIMISTIC THOUGHT: The Blazers will suck less!
After jettisoning defensive forward Al-Farouq Aminu in the offseason, the team was depending on production from Zach Collins, but he got injured at the beginning of the year. But thanks to the pandemic, Collins isn't injured anymore, and neither is Jusuf Nurkic.
PESSIMISTIC THOUGHT: They sucked a lot most of the year.
Unfortunately, Hassan Whiteside started for much of the season, so they really ate it, amassing a 16-21 record before everything shut down. They have to win a lot to leapfrog the Grizzlies, the Kings and the Pelicans, who have the same record and now have walking cannonball Zion Williamson back.
OPTIMISTIC THOUGHT: The Blazers are probably the best team in the qualifying rungs!
The bones of this team made the conference finals last year. Damian Lillard is still one of the premier guards in the league, CJ McCollum is also excellent, and had they done literally anything but trade for Whiteside, they might have seemed a fringe contender this year.
PESSIMISTIC THOUGHT: But they're missing some pretty big bones.
Rodney Hood is injured, Nassir Little is unseasoned, Mario Hezonja lulls somewhere south of "legit NBA player," and Trevor Ariza, bless his soul, has opted out of the bubble so he can spend time with his children.
OPTIMISTIC THOUGHT: Zach Collins!
One of the big hits the Blazers took this year was losing Collins, who looked pretty good last year—and also called Klay Thompson a "hoe" in the middle of a game. Maybe he can snap the roster into order and give them what they've been missing all year.
PESSIMISTIC THOUGHT: Anfernee Simons?
The team also hoped 21-year-old Simons would be good, but he's had a rather poor sophomore season, shortening the useful guard rotation and leaving the team in a strange netherworld, backup point guard-wise.
OPTIMISTIC THOUGHT: They could win the title!
So much would have to go right, but this is a high-seed playoff squad in a world where they play a whole year! Good defense, high-level guard play, Melo providing a spark on the wing—pull it all together and become legends. Why not?
PESSIMISTIC THOUGHT: Who wants to be the Coronavirus Champions?
If the Blazers manage to overwhelm their way into the playoffs, beat LeBron James and the L.A. Lakers in the first round, keep pounding away, and become the first-ever eight seed to win the NBA title, they will have done it entirely because a massive pandemic broke out, killed a truly obscene number of people, and sidelined sports for several months, giving them time for their injured front line to come back and dominate. If that happened, are you sure you could truly celebrate, knowing the monkey's paw series of events that transpired to make it happen?
The Portland Trail Blazers play the Memphis Grizzlies at 1 pm on Friday, July 31. The game airs on NBATV and NBC Sports Northwest.