Nobody churns out hot takes like TNT’s Charles Barkley. This may be one of his hottest. Seriously folks, I’d advise wearing hazmat gear before clicking this tweet.
Chuck from the top rope! That’s a SCORCHER, though given how the Trail Blazers have fared recently, Barkley’s wild take might not be entirely off-base. Portland has claimed three of four since play resumed at Disney with convincing wins over Houston, Denver and Memphis. Even in their loss to the Celtics, the Blazers showed rare moxie, nearly stealing a win from Boston’s clutches after trailing by as many as 24 in the first half.
Damian Lillard has predictably played out of his skull, averaging 31.3 points and 11.3 assists per game in Orlando while draining 21 threes on 48 attempts (43.8 percent). Dame sunk 11 of those trifectas (which matched a career-high) in Thursday’s comfortable 10-point victory over the Nuggets. Portland has also benefited from the return of big man Jusuf Nurkic (22 points, 11 rebounds per game in the bubble), who hadn’t played since suffering a devastating leg injury late last season.
Barkley may have been pressured into making his prediction (studio host Ernie Johnson was clearly egging him on), but if the Blazers manage to land the No. 8 seed (they entered the day trailing eighth-place Memphis by half a game), the Hall of Fame forward was adamant Portland would win its first-round series against the Lakers. Los Angeles has looked surprisingly discombobulated in the bubble, losing three of five at Disney with recent setbacks against Houston and OKC. With the No. 1 seed already in hand, the Lakers haven’t had much to play for in Orlando, which could explain their lackluster play of late.
The Blazers certainly carry dark-horse potential—remember they advanced to the conference finals a year ago (Golden State made quick work of them, dispatching Portland in four games). But even if they crack the top eight, the Trail Blazers would still have to go through the Lakers, Clippers and god knows who else in a cutthroat Western Conference. Apparently, FanDuel Sportsbook has far less faith than Barkley, tapping the Blazers as 36-1 longshots to reach the NBA Finals.
Portland is an ambitious choice to come out of the West, but remember nobody was expecting the Raptors to win it all in 2019. With home-court advantage essentially null and void this year (every team is playing in the same venue), anything can happen.