The Portland Trail Blazers are projected to finish fifth in the Northwest Division (according to Sports Illustrated’s Sam Amick), but if the team wants to prove analysts wrong, they have to start by getting through their must-win contests in 2013.
Coming off a disappointing 2011-12 season, the Blazers are looking to turn things around in Rip City with a new rotation and a new head coach leading the way.
Every game is important for a team targeting the playoffs, but for Portland, there are a handful of contests that stick out in 2013.
What do you get when you place an up-and-coming organization against one of the most polarizing teams in the entire NBA?
You get one of the most highly-anticipated season openers in recent memory.
The Portland Trail Blazers tip off the year against the Los Angeles Lakers, and the story lines surrounding the game are beyond fantastic.
How will Damian Lillard look in his debut against Steve Nash? How will the youth of the Blazers play against the experience of the Lakers? Will Kobe Bryant’s struggles in Portland continue?
The fact that that it's on Halloween night only adds to the craziness, as the energy inside the Rose Garden is going to be as good as it gets.
Admittedly, to call this a must-win game is unfair at this point; but with the first true test being in the first game of the season, getting a win against a contender would help set the tone for such a young team.
The Los Angeles Clippers won't garner as much excitement as their in-town rivals, but Nov. 8 will be the first time that a national television audience will set their eyes on the Blazers in 2013.
By this point in the year, those following the Rookie of the Year race will surely know how Damian Lillard has performed, but with a chance to finally see him live, all eyes will be watching to see what the highly-anticipated prospect can do.
Lillard versus Chris Paul will be fun to watch, but the battle of the power forwards will be the true matchup to keep an eye on. Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge will showcase what they can do on the block, but they both like to get out and run, creating one of the more exciting power forward matchups in the league.
Jamal Crawford is someone else to look out for, as his recent stint in Portland didn’t go as planned, and he’d love to get a revenge victory early in the year.
If Portland is going to collect respect as a young team, beating a Western Conference contender in their first major broadcast will go a long way for fans across the league.
If you're only going to watch one Portland Trail Blazers game all season, make sure you tune in when the Minnesota Timberwolves visit the Rose Garden Nov. 23.
The Wolves are a division rival, they're up-and-coming just like Portland and they made headlines when they tried to snatch Nicolas Batum away with a big-time free-agent offer.
The story lines are endless when it comes to these two teams, but when Minnesota comes to town early in the year, fans will have their minds on one thing and one thing only.
The return of Brandon Roy.
The 28-year-old guard came out of retirement during the offseason and signed with the division rival Timberwolves. The former face of the Trail Blazers franchise is hoping to come back following incessant knee problems, and he will undoubtedly be welcomed back to Portland by one of the loudest standing ovations you’ll ever hear from such a passionate fanbase.
The Blazers must win to make their mark on the division, but for the sanity of the fans, shutting down Roy will help heal the pain of watching their one-time savior perform for another team.
The Portland Trail Blazers are going to be one of the youngest teams in the league in 2013, and February’s All-Star weekend will give them time to recuperate from a tough first half of the season.
Following the break, the Blazers will open back up against the Phoenix Suns, and it will be crucial that they start off on the right foot.
If the Blazers have performed above expectations at this point in the year, they must keep things rolling so they don’t fall off late. However, if the team has struggled, it’s going to be vital that new head coach Terry Stotts keeps spirits high and starts off with a win against Phoenix.
Following the Suns, the Blazers immediately take on the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics and the Denver Nuggets, so a win against a lesser-quality opponent will help create momentum before facing the contenders.
The youth of this team will likely be exposed at times throughout the year, but a relentless passion to win should help them stay motivated even if times have been tough following the first half of the season.
The Blazers have one of the toughest April schedules of any team in the NBA, as every squad they face has the chance to own a spot in the Western Conference playoffs.
This matchup is going to be on national television, but more importantly, it is a contest between two teams who could very well be fighting for the final spot in the postseason.
Both squad's are up-and-coming, meaning that the Blazers' spot in the playoffs could come down to whether or not they can get that one last victory.
These two teams don’t have a strong rivalry, but they could be clawing at each other’s throats by the final game of the regular season.