(via Essentially Sports)

Charles Barkley once again has tipped the Portland Trail Blazers to pull off a first-round upset against the Los Angeles Lakers and then go to the NBA Finals. Chuck has done it several times since a couple of months ago but seeing the level the team is showing in the bubble, he’s even more convinced now.

With a 3-1 start, it looks like the Blazers will at least play the play-in round for the eighth seed. Barkley is confident they can do a good job in front of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers, their potential rivals in the first round of the playoffs. Portland has improved its level in the bubble and the expectations increase for them every day.

“Let me tell you something,” Barkley said. “They have the best backcourt in the NBA because both (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson) are injured. You’ve got Nurkic coming off the bench who can do it all.”

“Gary Trent has been amazing,” Barkley added. “You’ve got Zach Collins coming in. You’ve got (Hassan) Whiteside that’s blocking everything. They are big and strong. Listen, whoever plays that team, you’re going to have to bring it. Plain and simple.”

The Blazers are a much better team now than they were before the league entered hiatus in March. Added to the returns of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, Carmelo Anthony has stepped up and is showing up when his team most needs him. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are playing as great as usual and other players, like Trent, have shown up now when the team is fighting for that playoffs spot.

We’re not saying they will beat the Lakers and reach the Finals, but Portland can bring a lot of trouble for any team in the West.

They play against the Clippers today, in one of their hardest tests in the bubble. Playoffs are different for a lot of reasons, but this game will tell you where they stand right now.