Today I am beginning a weekly column on the Portland Trail Blazers. Aptly named ‘Blazers Corner,’ this will be an ongoing series focusing on everything to do with the team. Some of them might be more serious than others, but every week I’ll make a few observations about the Blazers.
Let me start off by giving you some context into my history with the team.
If you grew up in the great state of Oregon and you’re a lover of sports, then you’ve probably followed the team at some point. I mean they’re the only professional sports franchise in the Beaver State so really what else was there besides college sports.
Personally, I started following the team in the early to mid ’90s. Right at the tail end of the finals runs and at the beginning of the average, first-round exit teams. You know, the P.J. Carlesimo years.
So in the time I’ve been consistently following them, they’ve been a decent NBA team. With the exception of the post-Jail Blazer, pre-Brandon Roy era, Portland has made the playoffs nearly every season. But in all that time, the team has only made it out of the first round twice; appearing in back-to-back conference finals in ’99 and ’00.
Based on that track record, the franchise has been the definition of “average.” There’s been more hope and potential than results over the last fifteen years. The Jail Blazer teams were very good, but ultimately failed to get over the top thanks to superior teams and a significant number of personal problems.
The Brandon Roy/Greg Oden/LaMarcus Aldridge teams were the victim of bad luck. Three franchise-changing pillars, put together to win multiple championships, the trio was only able to play in 76 games together over a five year period. The Blazers’ record in those games was 51-25, a .671 winning percentage.
So here we are in 2013. It’s nearly the halfway point of the season and this young team has defied all odds. Projected to be a 35-win team at the most, Portland currently sits at 20-18. Following last Thursday’s improbable win over Miami, Portland improved to five games over five hundred and held a nine-game home winning streak. For a team that has no bench, poor interior defense and a rookie starting point guard, no one could have seen this coming.
But while that win over Lebron James and the defending champs was the high point of the season, there is a caveat to all of this early season success. Despite wins over San Antonio, Memphis, New York and Miami, the Blazers to this point have had the easiest schedule of any Western Conference team.
After the huge win last Thursday, Portland had a remarkable 11-2 record in games decided by six points or less and a 5-0 record in overtime games. But since then, the team has lost three straight, all by six points or less including last night’s overtime loss in Denver. Thus proving that an impressive record in close games is as much about luck as it is talent.
The team begins a five-game home-stand tonight against the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers followed by winnable games against Milwaukee and Washington. But then they face a defensive juggernaut in the Indiana Pacers, a back-to-back with the surging Clippers and additional grueling games with playoff potential teams like Utah, Dallas and Houston. And this is all in the next few weeks.
For all the success the team has had so far, and it has been a pleasant surprise, we won’t truly know how good this team is until they get through this grueling run. It began with a victory over the best team in the East, but they haven’t won since. The team has stayed relatively healthy so far, but the five starters are having to play heavy minutes every night. At some point, some of them may break down, including rookie Damian Lillard.
But for now enjoy it while it lasts. Cleveland is the best cure for a three-game losing streak. Let’s hope this game tonight can reclaim some momentum heading into another difficult stretch.