Preview: 4-3 Portland at 5-3 Denver

Denver is a real Jekyll and Hyde team this year. They are capable of beating the top teams...or of losing to the worst. Portland falls squarely in between those. They are not a playoff series winning team (yet), but they are no longer low echelon, either.

This game is troublesome to forecast. Portland won 4 straight against 3 tough opponents and one weaker foe...but all 4 were at home. Denver, after a slow start, has won 3 straight and is starting a long home stretch with 13 of their next 18 at home. Will they overlook Portland?

Frye is consistent...4 - 6 points, then disappear. That is okay because Przybilla is playing well off the bench. Denver counters with Marcus Camby...he scores more and rebounds better than either Portland center. Defensively he likes to block shots, too.

Advantage: Denver

Power Forward
Aldridge is creating some buzz for Most Improved Player and "future all-star". Nene Hilario is out and Kevin Martin is coming back from injury. This should be another monster game for Aldridge as Denver tries to get in with guys who hustle and play hard but are nowhere near as talented.

Advantage: Portland

Small Forward
Webster is in a shooting slump, and those were home games. On the other side of the coin Carmelo Anthony is also shooting poorly...but he is putting up a lot more shots and hitting enough to score almost 26 a game. He also passes better than Webster.

Advantage: Denver

Shooting Guard
Roy is a stud and the Blazers are doing a better job of getting him more involved early. If that continues he will continue to put up good numbers and the win total will keep increasing. Opposing him is head case J.R. Smith. Smith will pull off eye-popping, athletic moves and score a little bit but he simply isn't in Roy's class. Not many players are at this position.

Advantage: Portland

Point Guard
I am becoming a believer in Blake. Sure, he does not score a lot (1 point against the Pistons) but he consistently gets 8 - 9 assists and seldom turns the ball over (1 against the Pistons) and does not need a lot of shots. On the other side you have shoot first, second and third Iverson...who suddenly has become a shoot first and third, but pass second point guard, averaging a very respectable 8.6 assists and shooting better than he has in many, many years. The career 42% shooter who shot too much and scored too few points for the number of shots he took is suddenly shooting a respectable 46% and that, in my eyes, means this is pretty much the best year of his career sans the one where he pretty much carried the Sixers to the Finals with essentially no help. Everything Blake does, Iverson is doing better.

Advantage: Denver

Portland has had a really good effort from the bench since Jack and Przybilla moved there. It only gets better when Outlaw plays well. Denver has time-absorbers who will hustle and try but simply are not as good as Portland's bench.

What needs to happen
Denver loves to run and this could be an opportunity for Portland to get out and get some easy buckets for Aldridge, Jack and Roy to counteract the firepower of Anthony and Iverson. However, it will be the 2nd night of a back to back with a night of travel between and Roy's heel is a consideration. Denver has been playing with a chip on their shoulder and will want to establish their home court.

For Portland to win they need Webster to come out of his slump, Aldridge to have a monster game, Jack to continue his outstanding run of bench play, and Anthony and Iverson to have poor shooting games. If that happens, they will win. Otherwise, this could be a blow-out the other way. Portland has the talent to win any game on their schedule, the question is whether they have figured that out yet. I would not be surprised to see a Portland win...but I don't expect it.

Denver by 8+ points

Portland 102, Detroit 94

I said, "Post-Sonic add: Detroit started fast, almost ran Seattle off the court, then gave it back, letting Seattle tie it with about 2:35 left in the game. Seattle, however, could not finish. Portland can because they have the talent in Roy, Aldridge and Webster to create the easy scoring opportunities they need to at the end of the game. I don't think Billups and Prince will both have the bad games they had against Seattle, but neither will Hamilton have the transcendent game.Portland should win this one, but it will be a close game."

So let's go to the scoreboard.
Early on, Detroit rode a 14-6 run that, except for a late 3 by Outlaw, would have given them an 8 point lead after one. The clutch shot by Travis, however, left it a reasonable 5 point deficit. Aldridge and Webster played well, combining for 11 points while Billups scored steadily and Wallace hit three late 3s and a deuce to give him a monster 11 point quarter on his own.

Portland outscored the Pistons by 2 in the second period led by 10 from Jarrett Jack and even Przybilla got in on the action, pitching in 6 points. The 53-50 half-time score was encouraging for Portland fans as Roy and Webster had yet to get going but Aldridge, Jack, and Outlaw were all having strong games.

The third quarter was all about the Blazer stars as Aldridge and Roy each scored 10 points in the quarter...the rest of the team combined for 8. Meanwhile, Portland put on the clamps on defense, holding the Pistons to 21 points after 27 and 27 in the first 2. Entering the 4th quarter it was all tied at 74.

The 4th quarter, the Blazers and the Pistons traded the lead for 3 minutes with 4 lead changes in that span. Portland took over with a 12-4 run that the Pistons never recovered from, never closing closer than 3 points with a shade over 2 minutes to go. Down the stretch the Blazers played tough defense and made 6 of 8 free throws to close out the game with an 8 point victory to go 4 - 3 on the season.

It was a great victory over a tough, talented team. They outscored a good Pistons bench 48 - 23 and their big guns for the most part played well. Aldridge hit 22 points and 10 rebounds against a tough defender in Rasheed Wallace and did it on solid 9-16 shooting while Roy added 20 points on an identical 9-16. Webster struggled again but he will get back on track soon.

This was a great, great home stand for the Blazers. They knocked off a formerly undefeated Hornet team most people have slotted for the playoffs, defeated title contender Dallas, handily beat the team they should (Memphis) and knocked off a strong Pistons team that had lost but 1 game previously. Well done, and let's keep the excitement rolling.