The Portland Trail Blazers are looking at a difficult stretch of four games starting tomorrow (Tuesday, January 10th). They start with a back-to-back at home consisting of a Los Angeles Clippers team (4-2) that has already gotten the best of them, followed by a defensive Orlando Magic squad (6-3). They end the difficult stretch with a six-game road trip starting with another back-to-back at the San Antonio Spurs (6-3) followed by the Houston Rockets (2-6).
So far this season the Trail Blazers have been one of the hottest and fastest teams in the league. This will be their first true test though, in my opinion. So far they are 0-1 in back-to-backs in a game where they looked awful against the Phoenix Suns. Knowing this, the game against Houston seems like it might be more challenging than it realistically should be.
Other than Houston, the Trail Blazers are facing a stretch where their opponents' combined record is (16-8). This is a little scary especially knowing they are 0-1 against the Clips and have struggled shooting recently. Additionally, the outside shooting that has been eluding the Blazers as of late will need to show up against the Magic because the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Dwight Howard patrols the paint.
The Blazers are coming off a single-day break and heading into a two-game back-to-back home stand. Portland has already lost to the Clippers once this year and I do believe that at least for one more game they will remain unbeaten at home. They will get their revenge against the Clippers in what should be a good game.
Following the Clippers the Blazers face a strong defensive squad anchored by Dwight Howard in the second straight game. While being at home does give the Blazers a slight advantage, I have a feeling that shooting woes might return. With a strong defense inside the Blazers will need to rely on outside shooting.
I see the Trail Blazers struggling and this game turning into another Phoenix display. I believe Portland comes away with its first home loss of the season.
Starting their long road trip with a win should be Nate McMillan's No. 1 goal. The Spurs are an old team with a lot of experience. However, the Blazers should be able to come in looking to bounce back from a loss at home and pull out a hard-fought win. The Spurs will also be without Manu Ginobili, a good sign for the Trail Blazers.
Lastly, the Blazers face the second back-to-back in a week when they travel down to Houston. The Blazers are going to be tired, but it's a relatively short trip from San Antonio. I think that the short flight will benefit Portland. The Trail Blazers will come into this game tired, but I think they just find enough energy to outlast Houston in a game that looks similar to the Cleveland game on Sunday.
They get their first back-to-back win of the season.
Portland ends this stretch at a 3-1 mark. It will be a tough week for them but it's time they prove they are contenders in the Western Conference. I'm not a psychic and this probably won't be exactly how this week pans out. I do think that it's inevitable they lose at least one game in this stretch.