No team had ever accom­plished what this NBA team did this season. And I’m not talking about the Golden State War­riors.

Everyone expected the War­riors to be excep­tional this season after winning the NBA Finals last June, but no one pre­dicted what the Portland Trail Blazers accom­plished this year.

The Blazers entered the 2015 – 16 regular season — which wrapped up last night — with low expec­ta­tions. After losing four of their five starters from the pre­vious year over the off­season to free agency and trades, NBA ana­lysts and pundits pre­dicted the Blazers to struggle through a season of rebuilding. Sportsbook had the Blazers fin­ishing the season with 27.5 wins, and even the most opti­mistic pro­jec­tions only had Portland fighting for the eighth seed in the Western Con­ference.
Yet here we are, two days away from tip-off of the NBA Playoffs, and the fifth-seed Blazers are preparing for a first-round matchup with the fourth-seed Los Angeles Clippers. No team in NBA history until this year’s Blazers had ever made the playoffs returning only two or fewer players with 1,000 or more minutes from the pre­vious season. The Blazers blew by Sportsbook’s pre­diction of 27.5 wins with their 28th win all the way back on Feb. 19 with an impressive 137 – 105 blowout of the NBA-best War­riors.
But it wasn’t as if it looked like the Blazers were going to smash expec­ta­tions from the beginning of the season. Portland was 15 – 24 on Jan. 8 before exploding for 18 wins over their next 22 games. It wasn’t until the middle of the season that the Blazers found their identity and started stringing together wins.
How’d they do it?
It helps to have a leader like Damian Lillard. Lillard, a fourth-year point guard out of Weber State, is one of only five players in the NBA with more than 1800 points and 500 or more assists. He is one of just four players in the top 10 in the league in points and assists per game. And yet he wasn’t even named an All-Star this season, adding to the sizeable chip on his shoulder that has moti­vated him throughout his career.
Starting alongside Lillard in Portland’s back­court is third-year guard C.J. McCollum, the obvious favorite to win Most Improved Player this season. McCollum has taken advantage of a large jump in playing time this year, aver­aging more than 20 points per game this season after aver­aging just 6.8 points the pre­vious year. Lillard and McCollum com­bined for more than 400 3‑pointers this season, joining Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as the only team­mates to do so this year.
The Blazers feature several other players who have blos­somed into more than com­petent NBA players under a new system and with increased minutes. While Lillard and McCollum are leading Portland’s charge, they wouldn’t be where they are without the improved play of once-nobodies like Maurice Harkless and Allen Crabbe.
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and Blazers GM Neil Olshey should be con­sidered for Coach of the Year and Exec­utive of the Year, respec­tively, for their accom­plish­ments, and Lillard should be con­sidered a top-five MVP can­didate for where he has taken his team.
So if you don’t have a team to root for in the NBA Playoffs, don’t jump on the War­riors band­wagon, take a chance on the Blazers. Sure, the War­riors just com­pleted what will be unde­niably remem­bered as one of the greatest regular seasons of all time. But what the Blazers accom­plished this season might just be more impressive.