Preview: April

At 47-27, the Blazers will have already exceeded the expectations many people had for them in the preseason but will be behind what others expected them to do.  They start off April in Oklahoma to face the pseudo-expansion Thunder. Portland is so much better than Oklahoma that they should seldom lose and will not do so this day.

Next up will be a road game against a Houston team that should be trying to build a record good enough to have home court advantage in the playoffs, barring their normal rash of injuries. With the incentive of a playoff seeding in hand, the Rockets will win this one.

Still on the road, again to see Memphis with whom the Blazers should be intimately familiar by now. The date is different, the result the same. Portland wins.

The next night in San Antonio Portland will be looking for the holy grail, that 50th win. San Antonio, however, when clicking on all cylinders is, if not impossible to beat at home, certainly one of the 3 or 4 most difficult games in basketball. Portland is not ready to win this one.

Home to face the Lakers, still seeking that 50th. This time they will get it as Portland makes Bryant work to get his points and the rest of the visiting team cannot shoot a high enough percentage to make up for it. Portland gets their 50th of the season against the hated Lakers.

The next night they travel to L.A. Fortunately for Portland, they face the Clippers, not the Lakers. With the 50 win barrier reached, brimming with confidence, they will win their 51st.

The next to last game is a home game against the Thunder.  Now Portland is rolling. At this point, they might even be in the hunt for some decent playoff seeding. They will knock off Oklahoma City one more time.

The final game of the season is against the Nuggets. All season these two teams will have battled. This game might even decide which team gets some sort of post-season advantage. Since the game is in Portland...they do and win their 53rd of the year.

The 12 game improvement could be larger or smaller. There are a lot of games that could go either way. My assessment is based on a few assumptions:

1)  Greg Oden will "struggle" early in the season as he tries to dunk too often, encounters some foul trouble, but makes a huge impact defensively and on the boards. His presence allows Joel Przybilla to slide to the second unit where his lack of offensive production means little but his rebounding and defensive presence in the middle allow the second unit to be more effective than expected.

2) LaMarcus Aldridge continues to improve. He should reach 20 points per game and perhaps even improve to 8-1/2 or 9 rebounds per game. With more freedom on defense, his shot blocks will go up slightly but that is not a huge deal.

3) Early in the season while on the bench do to injury, Martell Webster will learn how to move without the ball. He will then be more effective when he returns to the line-up. He does not need to score a lot to be effective. In fact, with Aldridge, Roy, Travis Outlaw and Oden all hitting for double figures, even 9 or 10 points a game would be plenty as long as he hits the three-ball when he gets it. While waiting for him, Nicolas Batum will get some key experience, show his defensive abilities, and be called on whenever Portland needs a stopper.

4) Steve Blake continues his steady play, shooting seldom but well so the opponents can't sag off him. Portland really just needs zone-busting from this position. Blake doesn't turn the ball over much, shoots a nice percentage, and doesn't need the ball to be effective.

5) Travis Outlaw returns to his role as instant offense as the 6th man.

6) Jerryd Bayless gets some minutes, but not a lot. Sergio Rodriguez and Rudy Fernandez will get most of the back-up minutes. Bayless will get a lesson from the team leaders about playing as a team member, not going off on his own so much. On this team his primary role is to defend and scoring should be an after thought. Early on he will struggle with that but between the coaching of Nate McMillan and the role Brandon Roy has already shown, he will come around.

No doubt some games I thought Portland will win will be losses and some I thought they would lose will be W's. Any way you look at it, this should be a very entertaining season and I look forward to watching it. Even if they fall short of my expectations, the type of players they have will make it fun on the court and be great people off the court and that is really all we can ask for. 

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