At the end of every NBA game (except for maybe a team's 82nd, or third loss in a Playoff round) there is a nearly-invisible "To Be Continued..." that appears.
You can't see it unless you look deep into the faces of the players and their coach. No matter how a game ended, how bitter the defeat or how ecstatic the victory, professionals always realize that the season is long, and like two immortal warriors, these two teams will meet again.
One will seek vengeance, the other another salvation.
As we resume the regular season after the All-Star Break, those hard-to-see "To Be Continued..." endings will only get more dramatic. Every game will conclude with the participating franchises either closer to achieving their goals or farther from them.
If the Portland Trail Blazers can get closer to the Playoffs, each game will leave the viewer with a "To Be Continued..." that motivates them to stay tuned.
If not, well, look the other way, because a train wreck is about to take place.
Tonight, the Blazers will pick up where last we left them, a tragic trampling in Golden State that injured C Greg Oden and damaged their spot in the standings.
Brandon Roy played well in the All-Star Game, and our beloved Rudy Fernandez got screwed in the Slam Dunk Contest.
Though Portland currently holds the fourth or fifth spot in the Western Conference, in three games they could slip all the way to the ninth spot.
And there are plenty of enemies with great sagas of their own developing.
Let us examine our foes:
After firing head coach Terry Porter, the Phoenix Suns (currently ninth in the conference) made it perfectly clear that they are going to push for the Playoffs with a team that will outscore the opponent.
None of this "defense wins championships" for them. Shaq is going to run the court and they are going to bomb threes. Watch out, NBA.
Fortunately, Portland only has to play them one more time, and it will be a home game.
The Mavericks are a bunch of veterans who have, until recently, been lying low. Now, they're making shots and playing like a team that made it to the NBA Finals just three seasons ago.
If Dirk Nowitzki stays hot, the rest of the league is in big trouble.
Dallas always scares me; they just seem to have Portland's number. The Blazers will need to focus on strengthening their young legs to beat them.
The Jazz are either a royal pain in the neck or just a fly that needs to be swatted.
Unless they are fully healthy, I do not see them making the Playoffs, as too many teams will take advantage of their injuries. But unfortunately for the rest of the West, Utah can play sick hoops if provoked, and they get provoked easily.
When facing Portland, Utah always seems to have the home-court advantage.
These guys scare the hell out of me. They have veterans, All-Stars, and attitude.
Portland's only option against Denver is for the youngsters to play the game of their lives.
New Orleans proved that they cannot play a game of professional basketball unless they have All-Star point guard Chris Paul. But when they have Chris Paul, they play one venomous game of hoops. And right now, they have Chris Paul.
Fortunately, the Blazers do not have to play them again this season. Still, Portland v. New Orleans would be one heck of a Playoff series.
The Spurs are always one of the best teams in the NBA, and always the team to beat out West, no matter what. Making the NBA Finals means being the team that can beat San Antonio and the great Tim Duncan.
Portland faces San Antonio three more times down the stretch. Yikes!
Tracy McGrady is desperate to get home-court advantage in the first round in order to advance for the first time in his career. And they have one great 0.8-second reason to rub Portland's face in the dirt
Good news: The Blazers can beat them, even if they're down one with less than a second left.
And then there's the Los Angeles Lakers, my least favorite group of people.
Kobe Bryant lost his center, and guess what? They are playing even better basketball without him.
The NBA wants a rematch between Los Angeles and Boston, but that would require that the Lakers not only win with their players and top-notch coach, but also with the refs giving them free throws late in the game.
Thankfully, Portland always plays well against L.A. at home, even in past years when they were a sub-.500 team. And besides, if the Blazers do drop to the seventh or eighth seed, a Los Angeles v. Portland first-round series would be the perfect way for Portland to re-enter the playoffs.
So there you have it, Portland Trail Blazers.
Still, the key to making the Playoffs is not just a few important victories against these dangerous enemies, but also defeating teams like the one you face tonight, the lowly Memphis Grizzlies.
So can they do it?
To be continued...
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