Prior to the 2013-14 season, 13 full years had gone by since the Portland Trail Blazers won a playoff series. All of that changed thanks to one fateful shot from Damian Lillard that will be remembered in Portland for years to come.
That playoff success was soon derailed by the eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, but it could mark the beginning of a new era. This season, the young guard hopes to bring even more memorable moments to the franchise.
There is so much pride to go around in Portland right now that even new jerseys have been created. Darren Rovell of ESPN passes along a photo of the new "pride" jersey:
New Trailblazers "Pride" uniform pic.twitter.com/b2yM5rkuAp— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) July 21, 2014
Equipped once again with emerging superstars Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland has the pieces for playoff success. With many of the same faces around them like Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez and Nicolas Batum, 2014-15 will be special for the franchise.
Before the season gets underway, here's a look at the top games, championship odds and predictions for the Trail Blazers.
*Full schedule can be found at the Trail Blazers' official site.
Most Intriguing Matchups
Houston Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers, Dec. 22, 2014
No one in Portland will forget the shot that sent the team to the second round of the playoffs. Neither will any member of the Houston Rockets.
After having the Blazers on the ropes in Game 6 of the first round, the Rockets were left deflated and heading into an early offseason. How huge is the upcoming game following the series? NBA.com even went so far as to call an NBA Summer League game "The Rematch" when the teams played:
With the Rockets and Blazers both hoping to return to the playoffs this year, the two talent-laden franchises will have some intriguing duals throughout the season. But the matchup back in Portland will be the first time Houston returns to where its dreams ended earlier this year.
This game will feature multiple stars and plenty of enthusiasm among the fans, which should create an electric regular-season environment. If everything goes right for the two franchises, they might also see each other in the postseason again.
Portland Trail Blazers at San Antonio Spurs, Dec. 19
In order to become the best, you have to beat the best.
After last season's run through the playoffs, there is no doubt that the Spurs are the best in the West. If the Blazers ever plan on taking the next step, imposing their will on the veteran core of the Spurs will be crucial.
Following the final game, coach Terry Stotts spoke about his team's success, per Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated:
"It was a special year. ... I thought every one of our starters had career years. ... We got a taste of success." Terry Stotts— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) May 15, 2014
Just how dominant, exactly, have the Spurs been since Tim Duncan entered the league? ESPN Stats & Info noted a huge component of their rein following the defeat of Portland:
Spurs will make their 9th conference finals appearance since Tim Duncan joined the team (1997-98), most of any team in that span— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 15, 2014
Case in point: If the Blazers want to take the next step, how they perform against the Spurs will be the measuring stick. Impose their will against the old guard of the Spurs, and the young guard might just have a chance for future success.
Championship Odds and Predictions
Not only were the Trail Blazers a fun team to watch last season, but they were also a pretty talented team. Now, with a similar cast and a year removed from their best season in over a decade, Portland is on the cusp of making serious waves in the postseason.
OddsShark.com lists their championship odds at 40-1. Stotts spoke about hoping to bring success to the city after signing a new contract, per a team release: "Portland is a unique and special place and I'm very proud to be the head coach of the Trail Blazers. We started the process two seasons ago and laid the foundation for success. I look forward to the possibilities of the upcoming seasons."
Will those possibilities come to fruition this year? Probably not with the loaded West yet again and some emerging powers in the Eastern Conference.
But given the production of players such as Aldridge and Lillard along with great role players around them, the Blazers will once again be a force in the West. While they likely won't win the West, a trip to the conference finals seems like a distinct possibility for this talented team.
After winning 54 games last season, a similar year is likely for Portland. With a 50-55 win season, the Trail Blazers will be both entertaining and talented yet again in 2014-15.
Record Prediction: 55-27
Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter: