Now that the Trail Blazers have clinched a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2011, the focus has turned from whether Portland will make the postseason to which team they’ll play when the first round starts less than two weeks from now.
Portland could end up playing any of the top four teams in the Western Conference, though they are most likely to play the Rockets with the next highest probability being a first-round matchup in Los Angeles versus the Clippers. The Spurs and Thunder are also potential, though both are unlikely to be Portland’s opponent unless they lose all four of their remaining games this season.
But does it matter? Not according to Portland’s starters, who had varying reasons for saying they didn’t have a preference when it comes to their first playoff opponent.
There was Nicolas Batum, who pointed out that all the teams in the Western Conference are tough outs, so there was no reason to hope for one opponent over another.
“We’re in the West, so I don’t really care,” said Batum. “Whoever we play is going to be tough anyways, from San Antonio to Phoenix, Memphis, Dallas, Houston, Clippers. That’s (the media’s) job to choose and to debate, that’s not mine. So we’ll see.”
Then there’s Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez, who pointed out that the Trail Blazers have beaten all of the teams above them in the standings, so they’ll be up to the task regardless of which matchup they end up in.
“We’ve played every team in the Top 4 of the Western Conference tough,” said Matthews, “think we split with every team and we haven’t played the Clippers four times yet. We split with OKC, San Antonio, Houston, played the Clippers tough. It won’t really matter.”
Starting point guard Damian Lillard took a more philosophical approach to the question. While they are in control of their own destiny, as winning their final four games would ensure finishing no lower than fifth, they have no say over who ends up in the other seven playoff spots.
“I don’t have a preference, because it is what it is,” said Lillard. “We don’t control that. I know it’ll be either the Rockets or the Clippers. I’m fine with either one.”
In the end, there’s probably not much point in worrying about first round matchups, at least until the regular season is in the books. Sure, there’s always the option of trying to lose games to get an advantageous first round matchup, but those don’t really exist in the Western Conference.
You’d be hard-pressed to argue that playing the Spurs or Thunder would be an easier path to the second round than going up against the Rockets or Clippers. And even if you could piece together some kind of theory proving one opponent is easier to beat than the others, losing on purpose is hardly the way for a team featuring eight players with no postseason experience to enter their first playoff series. Better to go in riding a wave of confidence and with the feeling that no team is unbeatable.
“I just want to get there and play whoever,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “We’ve played well versus everybody.”