Portland 111, Atlanta 109

This was a game I thought Portland had to have. They needed to go at least 3-4 for this road trip to be a success. They already lost a winnable game to Orlando and another to Toronto. If they lost to Atlanta I did not see them coming back and beating New Orleans. That means a Hawk win was a 2-5 road trip which I think was pretty near disastrous. On the other hand, winning in Atlanta in no way guarantees a win in New Orleans.

This ended up being a much tougher game than expected, going to overtime for the second time on this road trip. Roy and Aldridge both struggled mightily from the field, shooting about 33% each. It was a mighty bench effort starring Outlaw, Rodriguez and Jones that saved them.

That is one thing that is setting this team apart. While more often than not to win they need at least "average" performances from Roy and Aldridge to win, more and more often they are getting everything they need from one of their big two and then a big night from two or three guys from a rotating cast. One night it might be Webster and Blake, the next night Outlaw and Jones, another night it might be Rodriguez and Przybilla...but again and again when the points are hard to come by for Roy and/or Aldridge they are getting a big boost from the role players.

This is good to see. It is yet another step in their evolution towards being a very good team that might actually do some damage in the playoffs. The Atlanta game, in retrospect, is one they easily could have lost. They are at the tail end of a hectic, tough road trip. Atlanta is a team that looks to be taking a few steps upwards as well and has done a good job of defending their home court. Fatigue, road weariness...these elements come into play. But these Blazers will not be denied.

The game against New Orleans will be another big stepping stone. Portland knows it is good enough to win against the Hornets, even on the road. Will they come out and impose their will? That is hard to say. The Hornet game is essentially a free roll...with a 3-3 road record going in, the trip has already been a qualified success. If they can win the rubber match then it will have been a huge success. It will give them some breathing room for a mis-step at some point. It will keep them in the drivers seat for the playoffs which, despite their solid record, are hardly assured. It is a big game.

And that leads me to believe they are going to do what it takes to win that game. For most of the season the players have identified important games and policed themselves, making sure they knew the importance of the game...then coming out and winning it. While the statistical difference between 3-4 and 4-3 is not huge, the psychological impact is mammoth. Going better than .500 on a trip of this magnitude and difficulty would give them a huge confidence boost.

But somehow I just can't pull the trigger on it. Even though I believe Portland is the better team and should win the game...I just don't think they are going to. I really hope I am wrong. Everything I know about this team says they should win. I guess I am just not a true believer after all...It is a game they could win but will not.

The Road trip so far

Going in I thought Portland SHOULD win the game against Toronto, though with Calderon coming on it could be a problem game. Sure enough, he scored 22 and added 10 assists while only missing three shots. Bosh had a huge game, 38 and 14 on solid shooting. Portland shot just 41% and gave up 48% shooting.They managed to win the rebound battle by 8 which goes a long way towards explaining how they got the game to overtime but they ended up losing a game they should have won, 116-109 in double overtime. 0-1 on the trip.

Against New Jersey I thought Portland should win by 6 - 10 points despite Kidd, Jefferson and Carter, though anytime you run into a team with athletes that talented there is the possibility you will lose. Portland shot 53%, New Jersey 34%, and Portland built a 13 point first quarter lead that was never threatened on their way to a blow-out win. The Nets three most talented players shot 7-33 and nobody stepped up to help them out. Portland blew them off the court 99-73.

I am a believer in Boston. I think they are as good as their record and are going to be tough to knock off anytime before the Finals, though it can be done. Portland is good but I don't think they are ready to win this road game. Yet. Sure enough, Boston did what very few teams have done against the Blazers recently...they won the 4th quarter. Roy, Aldridge, Jack and Outlaw had solid games but nobody else stepped up. Allen and Garnett were both "on" and were too much for Portland, leading Boston to the unsurprising 100-90 victory and dropping Portland to 1-2 on the road trip. I had hoped they would be 2-1 at this point, but hey...what are you going to do?

I thought Portland should beat Miami and probably pretty handily...say, 6 - 10 points. Somehow they turned a 9 point half time lead into a 7 point deficit heading into the 4th quarter as they absolutely melted down in the third quarter. Early in the season they would have completed the collapse and lost another winnable game on this trip. These are not those Blazers, however. Led by Roy's 16 4th quarter points, they came back to take a convincing 7 point win, 98-91. Strange how you don't hear much these days about the Bryant-O Neal rivalry... 2-2

Against Orlando I thought it was a toss-up. Orlando I made a slight favorite but it would not be a huge upset if Portland pulled out the win. They started slowly and never really recovered from the 8 point deficit that hit them in the first period. Aldridge had a terrible shooting game (6-21), though he did help on defense, blocking 4 shots. Roy played well but just did not get enough help. When one of your studs struggles you need 2 or 3 role players to step up and only Outlaw did so on the offensive end. Meanwhile, 5 Magic scored in double figures and they shot 50%. Orlando was the better team this night and pulled out the 101-94 win.

So the road trip stands at 2-3. A 3-4 road trip I thought would be a success, a 2-5 a disaster, and 4-3 would be tough but do-able. To hit that Portland needs to win the next two. They should beat Atlanta. New Orleans...well, that we will have to wait and see.