Are the PortlandTrail Blazers Contenders Or Pretenders?

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Are the PortlandTrail Blazers Contenders Or Pretenders?

With the playoffs approaching, the Portland Trail Blazers have begun to establish that they are not just going to fall over and fade out of the playoff race as many expected.  Instead, they seem to be peaking at the right time, with blowouts over Los Angeles and San Antonio in the past week. 

So what has been the secret to their success?

 

Brandon Roy

He is finally beginning to get some well deserved recognition as one of the top players in basketball. Despite a 40+ inch vertical leap and extreme athletic ability, Roy differs from other elite players because he is so controlled and methodical on the court. 

He rarely turns the ball over, always makes smart decisions with the basketball, and there is almost no one better in late game situations. 

The unquestioned team leader, the Blazers pick up on Roy's attitude and desire and never give up until the final whistle is blown.

 

Joel Przybilla

With all the hype surrounding Greg Oden, Przybilla was expected to be a non-factor this season by many fans. 

Although his numbers have not been extraordinary (5.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG), he has been an absolute rock in the middle on defense and shown himself to be a tremendous offensive rebounder. 

The most impressive part of Przybilla, however, has been his ability to produce despite an inconsistency in minutes. 

When Oden was healthy, Przybilla's minutes depended purely on how the young center was playing.  He embraced this role with no complaint, and has been an invaluable member of Portland.

 

Home Court Advantage

So far, the Blazers have amassed an outstanding 27-5 record at home, second best in the Western Conference.  Even more impressive is the amount of these wins that were come from behind, down to the wire victories. 

Right now, the Blazers are confident that they can beat any team in the NBA in the Rose Garden, which could pose a threat to any team come playoff time.

 

Depth

A combination of being one of the youngest teams in the NBA and one of the only to have a legitimate 10 man rotation will keep Portland fresh late through the playoffs. 

Teams that rely heavily on one or two players are much more likely to fade down the stretch, as the wear and tear of the season really sinks in this time of year. 

Travis Outlaw is a real wild card who can get a shot off whenever he wants to, Rudy Fernandez is a fantastic shooter, and Jerryd Bayless is a spark plug who brings energy every single night and ignites the rest of his team. 

Playing together, the second unit has often bailed the first unit out of tough deficits created in the first quarter and keep the Blazers in many games this season.

 

However, this Blazer team is not without glaring weaknesses as well, mainly their inability to beat quality opponents on the road (1-11 against the Western Conference's 1-9 seeds) and a tendancy for lackluster efforts in the first quarter of games. 

Because of their inability to win on the road, home court advantage is an absolute necessity for this young team to take this surprising season past the first round of the playoffs. 

Currently, Portland has overtaken Utah and Denver atop the Northwest division, and if they can cling to their current seed, a first round victory is entirely possible.

A very exciting match-up for Portland would be the Los Angeles Lakers.  After a shot to the head of Rudy Fernandez late in the Blazer's blowout win on Sunday, a near brawl erupted between the teams. 

The bad blood has existed since last season, when Lamar Odom hit Brandon Roy with a very hard foul late in a game that was not close. 

Although the Lakers are the clear favorite to come out of the Western Conference, Portland, with their depth, talent, and ability to dominate their home floor, can potentially be a spoiler that continues this dream season deep into the playoffs.

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