MANILA, Philippines – For the latter half of the last decade, the Portland Trail Blazers have always been one of the NBA's dark horse contenders in the loaded Western Conference.
Thanks to the arrival of super scorer Damian Lillard in 2012, the Trail Blazers were elevated from an injury-riddled afterthought to a playoff team able to knock down aspiring title-chasers if they were not careful.
However, the 2019-2020 season has been somewhat of a disaster for the Blazers, who are currently sitting outside the playoff picture and are racing against time to get back in.
Are they headed towards a late-season crash or will they live up to their top star's reputation and make it just in the nick of time?
As has been the case for the last few years, the Blazers' offense runs through their two top star guards, Lillard and CJ McCollum.
"Dame Dolla" Lillard has been averaging a career-high 28.9 points per game to go with 7.8 assists and 4.3 rebounds on 45% shooting. McCollum is still the clear second option with norms of 22.5 points and 4.3 assists on the same shooting clip as Lillard.
The volatile, but productive Hassan Whiteside has stepped up in the absence of star big man Jusuf Nurkic and churned out a double-double average of 16.3 points and 14.3 rebounds with a league-best 3.1 blocks per game.
The story of the season so far has been the acquisition of embattled forward Carmelo Anthony, who proved he still has a lot left in the tank after averaging 15.3 points on 43% shooting after being cut out of the Houston Rockets' rotation.
All this firepower, however, still failed to translate to more wins as the Blazers still got evidently hurt from the absences of injured key cogs Nurkic, Rodney Hood, and Zach Collins.
Although some of these players may come back healthy once the season resumes at Disney World Orlando, it is still a wait-and-see scenario on whether or not late-season rotation tinkering will do Portland any good.
Because of the aforementioned injuries, the Blazers fell down to 9th place in the West with a 29-37 record, just 3.5 games away from the 8th spot but also just 2.5 games ahead of the 13th seed.
Like many of the teams fighting for a playoff spot at the bottom of the ladder, the Blazers are tougher than what their record shows.
But unlike teams such as the Phoenix Suns and the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland actually owns an active 6-year playoff-clinching streak and reached as far as the Western Conference Finals last year using the same core.
Once all is said and done, it will be a huge disappointment if the Blazers do not make it to the postseason. They know it, and most importantly, their competitors know it as well.
If there is still time on the clock, never, ever count Portland out. Game time is Dame Time.