Pre-view: Portland v. San Antonio, 11/30

Opening night of the new campaign and the Blazers are on national tv. This is pretty exciting. Last year nobody really wanted to see them. Actually, if the powers that be at TNT had a do-over, once Oden went Dance-Dance Revolution on his knee, they probably still don't want the Blazers on their opening night telecast. The Blazers are a team without 2 of their 3 headliners...no Oden, Randolph is black-holing the offense in New York...and mark my words, he will score a lot of garbage points there, he is very good at that...

But a line-up headlined by Brandon Roy is not quite as marketable as a roster of "Once in a decade Rookie of the Year candidate Greg Oden and reigning Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy lead the Blazers into San Antonio to do battle with the Spurs." For the network, the game has lost some of its luster.

But for Portland fans...not so much.

There was an interesting debate in some circles about how the Blazers should handle the pre-game festivities. Would the players be allowed to watch the distribution of the Championship rings?

The argument in favor runs something like, "They will be inspired by the possibilities of winning one."

The argument against went something along the lines of, "No, they will be intimidated."

Although there has been some significant roster turnover since last year, I am going to argue the argument against is a bit silly. Last year there was not much expected of the team. Aldridge and Pryzbilla were out with injury. I was fortunate enough to take my wife to her first ever NBA game against the Lakers. The Blazers, as was their habit early last year, fell behind by double digits, in the 14 - 16 point range. They were a young, depleted team facing a Bryant-led team that had a good-size lead on them.

And they came back. They fought and scratched and clawed their way back into the game. And they ended up winning it. Despite their youth and inexperience, they were not awed and competed against seemingly overwhelming odds.

Nor was it a one-shot deal. Several times they would fall behind early but claw back. They did not always win...in fact, they probably did not even win half the time. But they always competed. They did not just quit, they did not get intimidated.

To be certain, some teams just plain out-talented the Blazers. The Suns, the Mavericks...they were just too good, too athletic. And the out manned Blazers struggled.

But they never quit or let themselves be intimidated.

So why would we think this year is any different? Blake and Pryzbilla took less money to play in Portland because of what they were seeing. Roy and Aldridge have a year's experience under their belts. Webster is playing better than he has in his first three seasons. Even without Randolph and Oden, the Blazers are a better team between the improved health of Pryzbilla and Aldridge, the improvement from Jack, Sergio, Roy and Aldridge, and the removal of the cancers from the team.

Does that mean I am predicting a victory in San Antonio? No, not really. Duncan is Duncan, Popovich is a great coach, their guards Parker and Ginobli are tough match-ups for the Blazers, and Bowen gives Roy fits. For the Blazers to win they need monster games from Aldridge and Webster offensively and Pryzbilla defensively. If he is able to come off his man to block a few of Ginobli's shots on those drives to the hoop it can create some transition opportunities for the Blazers, which they will need to score due to the always tough half-court defense of the Spurs. If he has a big game defensively, Roy is able to create, Webster knocks down his open shots to create some space for Aldridge to work, they could pull off the upset.

I think it is more likely the balanced, experienced, talented Spurs will get behind their horses, score a little bit, stop the Blazers a lot, and win by a comfortable margin, 8 - 10 points or more.

But the Blazers will lay a foundation. They will figure out they can compete with the big boys and it will lead to future improvements and successes. And if things break right...well, I would not be totally shocked to see them steal one.

And it will be entertaining.

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