I hear people offhandedly mention the Blazers as contenders this year as if they were contenders last year, and shouldn't be forgotten about. My answer to that is they weren't contenders last year so you have to sell me on their leap this year before I call them that. My reasoning?
1. They were of above average health last year. Of the 8 teams in the West they were the 2nd healthiest in terms of their core 5 players (behind Dal). LMA missed 13 games and no other starter missed even 1. Their 54 wins, while impressive, isn't in contention for coming out of the West in a typical year, and their is no real reason to think that they were a 60 win team masquerading as a 54 win team due to Pythag or health issues. In the last 4 years the West was won by a team with 57-62 wins (projected in the SS season).
2. Their series against the Rockets was really stinking close. Their wins were by 1, 2, 3 and 7 pts. Houston actually outscored them by 2 pts in the series despite losing 4-2. Functionally the difference between those two 54 win teams was the fact that Hou shot 36% from 3 during the season and 32% during the series. Literally a pair of 3 pters made could be the difference between Portland in 6 and Houston in 6.
That is a description of what happened last year, but where is the why?
Specifically why did they get annihilated by the Spurs- lost in 5 games, the closest loss was by 15 pts.
Obviously the Blazers were an offensive team- #2 in Ortg and #16 in Drtg during the regular season, but they weren't a regular high powered offense. They weren't among the league leaders in TS% (they were 11th) like the other top offenses (Tops in TS%- Heat, Rockets, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder, Mavs occupied the #1 and 2-7 spots in Ortg). The Blazers worked their offense differently, as a slightly above average TS team they generated higher than expected scoring with terrific offensive rebounding and a low turnover rate (3rd in both). When they ran into a playoff team that didn't allow them to dominate in this area their offense fell apart, and with no true offensive stud (no, LMA doesn't count, more on this some other day) they simple had nothing to fall back on.