We've known for a while now that the Trail Blazers were not going to be able to crawl into a Western Conference playoff berth.
But the Portland win over the Boston Celtics Sunday night in the Rose Garden showed exactly why that isn't all that important. This team is still going to compete, still going to beat good teams and still going to provide an entertaining product -- no matter if the playoffs are a reality.
I loved the grittiness the Blazers showed against Boston.
The Celtics are a frustrating team to play against. They are not going to let you get to the basket, even if they have to grab you or throw you into a figure-four leglock to keep you from doing what you want to do. Damian Lillard is going to be waking up in the middle of the night in cold sweats for a while -- seeing visions of Kevin Garnett jumping out on those pick-and-rolls, right in his face. Afterward, Boston Coach Doc Rivers lamented his team's defense, too, but he smiled when I mentioned to him later that on his team's worst defensive night, it plays better defense than a good portion of the NBA.
And somehow, the Trail Blazers overcame all that and played just a little bit of defense of their own. And they did it with a different cast of characters, too. Victor Claver is going to be sucking up Luke Babbitt's minutes now. Will Barton's minutes are climbing and Meyers Leonard is going to be playing more. It won't matter much, though, because this team will continue to improve, play hard and compete. And I'm looking forward to seeing what the young guys bring, particularly with additional playing time to get comfortable.
Playoffs? Well, I know the win over Boston gave fans some hope, but it's false hope. Basketball-reference.com -- a well-respected site when it comes to such things -- predicts teams' playoff chances daily, based on a thousand simulations of the remainder of the season. The news for Portland fans isn't good: the site predicts the Blazers to finish with 36 wins and shows just a .7 percent chance of the Blazers making the playoffs.
And given the remaining schedule, that sounds about right. I wouldn't be surprised by a few more wins, though. On a given night, this team can beat anybody.