It’s Been an Interesting Season No Matter How you Look At It
As the Trail Blazers head into the All-Star break following three difficult and frustrating losses as well as defeats in six of their last nine games overall, how well should they and fans feel about their play in the first half of the season?
If you were told before the season started that Portland would be 36-17 by the break, you would have taken that record and ran with it. And yet with the way the last two weeks have gone, there is a sense that the honeymoon period is officially over and reality is setting in. That reality being that Portland is a very good team that got off to a blazingly (no pun intended) hot start before cooling off and realizing that they are very good, but still not quite elite.
But again, they’re 36-17 and two games behind San Antonio for second in the West. If not for this recent stretch, the feeling would be one of excitement and optimism. It probably still is. I guess it comes down to whether or not you’re a glass half full kind of person or the other way around. Let’s break down both perspectives.
You’ve had one of the best records in the league for the first-half of the season and have consistently been 20 games over .500, a mark only the Heat, Pacers and Thunder can claim.
Against the elite teams (Miami, Indiana, OKC, San Antonio, Houston, Clippers), you’re 7-7 but really should be 10-4 if not for late threes by Chris Bosh and George Hill and a missed open jumper by LaMarcus Aldridge.
Your 17 road wins (a good barometer for great teams) is tied for the third most in the entire league and more than the Pacers, Rockets and Clippers.
Seven of your first eight games following the break are at home so the recent slump could be quickly forgotten.
CJ McCollum has played terrific in the last four games which is huge for a bench that has had only one consistent contributor; Mo Williams. The team already has the best offense in the league and now you can add another potent scorer to the mix.
The last three losses have all been games you could have and should have won. Against both Indiana and OKC, you had control for most of the game against two potential finals teams and lost thanks to a missed offensive rebound and a missed open jump-shot. The Clippers loss came down to bad shot selection in the final two minutes.
So really, you could chalk up the team’s recent struggles in late-game situations as nothing more than the “Basketball Gods” setting things right. Sometimes the ball bounces your way, sometimes it doesn’t during a long season.
You should be concerned. The Blazers are limping into the break and the loss against the Clippers has them tied for third in the West but really fifth because the two teams in front of them have winning records over the team.
The defense, which has been your crux the whole season, isn’t getting any better and now other issues are drawing concern including poor shooting, turnovers and giving up offensive rebounds.
The bench just got even thinner with Joel Freeland going down with a knee injury. Now the only two players to rely on to spell Aldridge and Robin Lopez minutes are Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson; two players with freakish athletic ability and a lot of potential, but also inconsistent and lacking in basketball intelligence.
The team has two five-game road trips to look forward to including stops in Dallas, Houston, Memphis, San Antonio and Miami.
The Blazers are the only team in the league that can say they’ve had the same starting five for every game up to this point. Can that last? Does another team rely on their starters more than Portland?
The starters aren’t playing quite as many minutes as they did last season, but there is fear once again that they could begin to break down. Blowouts would be nice, but when the defense can’t stop anybody, convincing wins are hard to come by.
No matter how you view the team’s play so far, you have to admit it’s been a fun ride. The team has exceeded every expectation, which in that case has to mean it’s been a success, but now they’re feeling greedy which means any loss is considered a big deal. They were a borderline playoff team before the season started and look how far they’ve come. The second half should be very interesting.