The Portland Trail Blazers are near .500 near the midway point of the season. The Blazers are 16-15 in this year’s shortened season.
How will the season pan out? Will they flip the switch and scintillate fans with an outstanding stretch run?
Or will their road woes—and recently discovered home problems—continue to trip them up and leave lottery-bound?
Winning half of these 10 games will put the Blazers on the right track—these are the 10 most difficult games left on their schedule.
Miami is a tough matchup for anybody in the NBA.
With Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum, Portland is one of the teams best equipped to slow LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Wade and James will be well rested when they visit Portland for this game though. It is the Heat’s first game after the All-Star break.
Portland, on the other hand, plays at Denver the night before.
After likely having to fight tooth and nail for a Northwest Division win against the Nuggets, the Blazers won’t have enough left in the tank to beat the Heat.
This one could get ugly.
Prediction: Miami 113, Portland 91
Portland plays at Indiana on March 13, then hits the court at Madison Square Garden the next night.
If Jeremy Lin is still playing at a high level with Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire in the lineup, this could be a shootout.
While Lin has been amazing offensively, his defense is bad enough that Raymond Felton could look like an All-Star against him. Plus, Felton will have a chip on his shoulder playing in New York after being dealt from the Knicks last year.
Marcus Camby will do enough to contain Stoudemire and Gerald Wallace will play Anthony physically.
Felton will have his best game in a Portland uniform.
Prediction: Portland 108, New York 105
It will be the second game in a row Raymond Felton has his hands full with the other team’s point guard.
The difference between the two games is Felton won’t be able to create as much offensively against the Bulls as he will against the Knicks.
Felton will follow his best game of the season with one of his worst.
Chicago will be playing its fifth game in a six-game homestand. Portland will be playing the sixth of seven straight road games—the Blazers’ longest road trip of the season.
The Bulls will jump on the jet-lagged Blazers early. This will be a great opportunity to see the Rhino, Nolan Smith, Elliot Williams and Luke Babbitt play a lot of minutes because Nate McMillan will pull the plug on this one early.
Prediction: Chicago 103, Portland 71
Almost 6,500 miles of flying in 12 days can’t help a basketball team. But Portland will have to deal with that.
This game against the Oklahoma City Thunder is the last of the Blazers’ seven-game road swing.
The last time these teams played in Oklahoma City, Gerald Wallace frustrated Kevin Durant and the Blazers earned a win.
That won’t be the case in this one.
Even though I think the starters will get a lot of rest during the blowout loss to the Bulls, they’ll still be sapped of the energy they need to take a second road win from Oklahoma City.
Expect Wallace to keep Durant in check again, but the Thunder is too good of a team to be swept at home by the Trail Blazers.
Prediction: Oklahoma City 99, Portland 96
This will be the second game in two nights for Portland, who hosts Memphis the previous night.
The Blazers seem to come up with good outings against the Lakers these days. That will be the case this game, as Los Angeles finds itself struggling somewhat this year.
Once again, the key will be Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum harassing the other team’s star scorer—this time Kobe Bryant.
Marcus Camby’s defense will leave Los Angeles with only one effective big man.
And don’t be surprised if Batum throws down yet another dunk over Pau Gasol, this time flashing three fingers Gasol’s way.
This is one of the games the Blazers view as a rivalry game and they will be ready to play.
Prediction: Portland 90, Los Angeles 86
The roles will be reversed in this game—the fourth meeting between the Blazers and Thunder this season—with Portland playing at home.
The Thunder will be coming off a tough game against the Miami Heat.
If I am correct in my previous prediction, the Thunder will enter with a 2-1 advantage. The Blazers will be left wanting to settle the season series.
By this point, there won’t be a lot of surprises for either team. It will be a matter of will power, of who wants it more.
With a sold-out Rose Garden rocking, Portland will find a way to get past Oklahoma City.
Expect a big game from LaMarcus Aldridge, big shots at big moments from Jamal Crawford and big cheers when the team sends the fans home with free chalupas.
Prediction: Portland 104, Oklahoma City 97
Another trip to L.A. the day after a home game. Only this time the Blazers have to take on the Lob City Clippers.
With Andre Miller and his aggressive tackling gone, nobody on the Portland roster can match up physically with Blake Griffin. If Griffin wants to, he can score 40 in this game.
Chris Paul will give Raymond Felton fits.
Portland has to hope Gerald Wallace can tough up and use his brute force to throw Griffin off his game.
And he’ll need to get help from Kurt Thomas and Craig Smith, who should come off the bench to provide some hard fouls on Griffin.
That won’t be enough to stop the Clippers—especially if Kenyon Martin plays as youthfully as he did last night.
This game could get ugly, but I think LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews will provide enough offense to keep the score respectable.
Prediction: Los Angeles 102, Portland 89
Houston has had Portland’s number since the Rockets knocked the Blazers out of the postseason three years ago.
That will change on this night.
The pregame video will feature Brandon Roy’s game-winning three against the Rockets. Somehow that will inspire not just the Blazers, but the entire franchise and its fan base.
Houston will no longer be the bully in this relationship.
Jamal Crawford, Raymond Felton and Wesley Matthews will all come up big in this game, whether by slowing Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry or by their aggressive offense.
LaMarcus Aldridge will once again be spectacular.
Marcus Camby will rediscover his youth for a night.
And Gerald Wallace will be everywhere on the court.
Prediction: Portland 101, Houston 87
As the postseason approaches, there will be a lot of discussion about Portland falling to Dallas during the Mavs’ postseason run to a title last year.
The Portland players won’t forget that they gave the Mavericks their toughest challenge.
That will give them enough confidence to hold a mental edge over Dallas, a team without as much talent as it had a year ago.
Dirk Nowitzki will score in bunches, but he will be the only one able to produce consistently for the Mavs.
On the other end, they won’t have an answer for LaMarcus Aldridge inside. Aldridge will throw the team on his back and carry them to victory. I see him scoring 35 or more, with at least 15 of those coming from the free-throw line.
Prediction: Portland 88, Dallas 81
The last time the Trail Blazers played in the desert it was ugly.
They lost 102-77 in what remains their worst game of the season.
Don’t think that will escape Nate McMillan’s mind as he gets his team prepared for this contest.
With only four games to follow this one, it could be vital for Portland’s playoff positioning.
The veterans on the team will come to the forefront and lead by example. They’ll get to the loose balls, they’ll take the charges and they’ll cheer on their teammates.
They won’t allow a repeat of that 25-point defeat happen.
Instead the Trail Blazers will have contributions up and down the lineup in a complete team effort.
This game will be the video McMillan shows his team as they gear up for the playoffs. It’s how he wants his team to play. It’s how they need to play to be successful.
Prediction: Portland 100, Phoenix 89