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. 

Preview: March

March opens at home against the Spurs. Portland needs to win this one to show they have legitimately arrived and when they get into the playoffs, they will not simply go quietly. It starts here as Portland, having gelled more and more as the season has developed, comes out and finds a way to beat San Antonio.

By this point, this is not the Portland team that started the season. These Blazers understand how their teammates play, where they are on the floor, how they defend, and how they work together. Their rebounding should be well above average, their zones comfortable and effective, their rotations quick and pointed, and young guns like Greg Oden, Rudy Fernandez, and perhaps Jerryd Bayless will have found their roles and be performing to expectations.

When Indiana comes into town they will run into a confident, still improving team that is starting to really click. Portland should have improving shooting percentages, decreasing opponent field goal percentages, and keep adding to the win column. Indiana will be another win for the Blazers.

The next night they travel to Denver for the second end of a back to back. Denver will be surprising people. They are better than they are being given credit for. Iverson, Smith, Nene, Anthony...with all the minutes Anthony and Iverson play and the added firepower of Smith, this team will score a ton of points. Whether they can slow teams down consistently is another matter. On this night, they will and Portland will lose.

Home for a get well game against the T-wolves. This game should be an easy W for Portland.

 But don't scoff...every "easy" win builds confidence for the tough games. Like, say, against the Lakers who now come into town. Portland has been very competitive with L.A. and both teams are out to make a statement in this game. Portland will rise up, show their spirit and use the home court to beat a Laker team that will have a sparkling record.

Only one game off their win total from last year, Portland now faces a Mavericks team that will have slipped some from last year. Overconfidence leads to sloppiness, Jason Kidd has one of those games that reminds you of why team after team wrecks itself to bring him aboard...because, when he is right, he can single-handed win games. Portland loses a home game.

The Nets now come into town. I have heard pre-season rumblings that a lot of Nets fans think they will be better than advertised. Maybe. Maybe Brook Lopez will be everything they hope for, the loss of Richard Jefferson won't be felt, Vince Carter will become Vinsanity again and Yi Jianlian will be ready to play, surprising everyone including himself. The more likely scenario for them to be competitive this year involves bringing out of retirement Darryl Dawkins, Dr. J., etc. and getting one more run from a rejuvenated Nets Hall of Fame team...Portland continues their winning ways and matches their win total from last season.

On the road for what ties for their longest road trip of the year, though this one is a bit softer than the earlier long trips. First up is Atlanta. Brandon Roy and Joe Johnson are starting to develop a rivalry. Unfortunately for Joe Johnson, Roy has his number on defense and Johnson supplies a lot more at the offensive end than on defense so Roy's superior defense causes fits for the Hawks. Meanwhile, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden should have a field day as Portland gets the road trip off to a good start.

The next night is in Memphis, the back to back scenario. This is a good chance for the Grizzlies to pull off an upset. They catch a Portland team at the beginning of a long trip, theoretically tired from the night before. But here is where Portland shows their youth is an asset. Behind the veteran-like leadership of Brandon Roy, they come out and establish themselves early, never look back and win back to back road games.

Now Portland visits Indiana. Jarrett Jack was much maligned in Portland and unfairly. He did a decent job and will do the same for Indianapolis. Unfortunately for Pacers fans, with the departure of Jermaine O'Neal they have lost too much inside presence and won't be able to deal with the Blazers as the Blazers, looking good, win their third road game in a row.

The next night they go to Cleveland. Game 4 of a road trip for a back to back to a team that is in their head. Not an easy game and not one Portland will win. 

Next up is the Bucks, closing out the road trip. A win here would be huge, even against an out-manned Bucks team, but it will be just a bit too much to ask and Portland will lose this game.

Home to face the 76ers. This time Portland gets the job done. Winning in the Rose Garden will be a tough task for every team not named the Trailblazers this year and only the very best teams will be able to do it. Portland will focus on making that home court advantage stick and even with the addition of Elton Brand, Philadelphia is not ready.

The Suns will arrive with a heavy dose of winning in their recent history. That ends here as Oden will have come into his own, Joel Przybilla continues to be a stellar back-up, and Portland is no longer afraid of the Suns. The mystique will have ended and the Blazers hold home court against Phoenix.

In come the Grizzlies and this one is over early. Portland blows them out.

Now the Jazz come to town. Portland has been playing well enough to win most of the games they should but stumbling just often enough to remind people that many prognosticators had them winning in the mid 40s for games this year. This is one of those times where we get reminded Portland is not ready for a deep playoff run yet as they fall at home to the Jazz.

Preview:February Post All-Star Game

Early in the season Portland had to find out how good they were. They had to settle some issues regarding how NBA ready guys like Jerryd Bayless, Rudy Fernandez, Greg Oden, and Nicolas Batum were. They had to find out what offseason changes were made by Martell Webster, Sergio Rodriguez and Travis Outlaw. They had to find out what the new, improved LaMarcus Aldridge looked like.

Now they know. They know they can not only compete with any team in the League but they have a legitimate shot against even the very best teams in the League. It doesn't hurt they start with a soft schedule after the All Star game.

First up are the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies have some nice players, guys like Rudy Gay and intriguing young players in Conley, Marc Gasol, and so forth. One thing they do not have is enough talent to compete with a Blazer team that is figuring out just how good they are. Portland will kick off the post-break festivities with a blow-out win.

Next up is an improved Atlanta Hawks team. While Atlanta is not necessarily as good as they looked against Boston, they are moving in the right direction. Joe Johnson is a high level scorer, they have a good veteran at the point in Mike Bibby, and Al Horford can do some damage. However, the Blazers can come at them in waves and have the talent to overwhelm Atlanta. Another easy win.

The Clippers might have run up the white flag by this point in the season or they might find their new players mesh very well and be surprising people. From a distance, I hope it is the latter. Clip fans have suffered a long time. They will keep suffering as Portland closes out the home stand with another win to go a surprising 15 games over .500. 

Next up is a wake-up call as they go to Houston. Houston is a fantastic regular season team and the Blazers might be a bit overconfident at this point. Houston will hold serve.

The next night is a back to back as Portland goes into San Antonia. Beating the Spurs in San Antonio is a tough task at any time. However, in the mid to late season when they are gearing up for the post-season, Greg Popovich almost always has them playing at a high level. Look for them to keep their dominance of Portland going.

They close out the month in Minnesota, a team that by now will be playing the role of spoiler. But they will also play the role of "get-well" game for Portland as Portland salvages one of the three road games to finish the trip 1-2.

For the month they went 8-4. Things are looking good for a play-off spot and a good one.