Utah Jazz: Who will take the loaded Northwest Division?

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - APRIL 27: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz and Paul George #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder hug after Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2018 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - APRIL 27: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Utah Jazz and Paul George #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder hug after Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2018 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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PORTLAND, OR – MARCH 15: Damian Lillard #0 and CJ McCollum #3 of the Portland Trail Blazers stand for the National Anthem before the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 15, 2018 at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images)
PORTLAND, OR – MARCH 15: Damian Lillard #0 and CJ McCollum #3 of the Portland Trail Blazers stand for the National Anthem before the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 15, 2018 at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Portland Trail Blazers

Ever since LaMarcus Aldridge left the Portland Trail Blazers, it seems that people have doubted their ability to remain competitive. Yet, Damian Lillard and Co. have continued to defy the odds by making the playoffs year after year. Last year, they climbed so high as to finish third in the Western Conference.

I know that accomplishment was largely overshadowed by their utter collapse in the playoffs that saw them suffer a first-round sweep to the New Orleans Pelicans, but in speaking of regular season standings, the Blazers will very likely still be right in the thick of things. Lillard and his running mate CJ McCollum have continually surpassed expectations, and even though several experts are projecting them to slide out of the playoff mix this year, I believe they’ll prove such doubts wrong again.

They’ll need Jusuf Nurkic to step up and fill a much more prominent role for them this upcoming year to be a true force, but even if he doesn’t, Dame has proven himself to be dominant enough to lift this Blazers team to heights beyond what would otherwise seem possible.

Many have surmised that a lackluster offseason that saw Portland lose the likes of Shabazz Napier, Ed Davis, Pat Connaughton and Noah Vonleh may hurt the team’s overall depth and cohesion. I think there’s certainly some valid reasons to be concerned about those things.

However, while I believe it may lead to a drop out of the third seed in the West and the top spot in the Northwest Division, until Lillard and Co. prove otherwise, I’ve got to believe that they’ll continue to find a way to claw back into the postseason once again.