LaMarcus Aldridge, here are the keys to the franchise.
I'm sure you all know this story by now: the Portland Trail Blazers are all banged up.
Not having Brandon Roy available is a huge problem. It's a problem that people on the radio shows, at the workplaces of myself and my brother (I could write five articles on the crazy trade ideas my brother's friend Mike cooks up at lunch), and even on this very website have tried to gloss over.
While it's true that the Blazers play looser, faster, and sometimes better without Roy, the fact remains that they're just above .500 and will have the sixth, seventh or even eighth seed in the West this year.
Without Roy, the Blazers are supposed to go nowhere. I know it. Blazermaniacs, in their heart of hearts, know it. Even crazy Mike knows it.
The big advantage Portland has, however, is that the rest of the NBA knows it, too.
Despite what the Utah Jazz and the Houston Rockets would say, the fact that Roy's not playing probably has teams thinking they could beat the Blazers with some ease. That's certainly the attitude the Miami Heat will have when they come into Portland on the ninth, and the New York Knicks will have that on their minds when they arrive two days later.
I mention those two teams because, the Denver loss without Marcus Camby notwithstanding, the Trail Blazers have had a damn good week. They defeated the Jazz twice in that span. To fully absorb this sensational piece of news, realize that even when they had Roy, in the last two seasons they've struggled to even provide a challenge to Utah.
So naturally, not only do they waltz into EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City and beat the Jazz there, they face them four days later at home and blow their doors off!
Then, on the first game of the new calender year, the Blazers played the Rockets, a team that shares two key things with Portland: they're both missing a key big man and they'll be struggling to finish higher than the other team to avoid the Spurs or Lakers come April.
Again, the Blazers took a potential playoff team and took them to school, getting to the paint with silly, ridiculous ease, stifling Luis Scola and Kevin Martin (25 points between them, far below the 43 they average together) and running the fast break and stuffing down jams like a team we're all familiar with in South Beach.
Aldridge said after the game that he and his teammates are finally settling into their roles, accepting the burdens placed on them because of the lack of serviceable bodies on their bench (Luke Babbitt as your 10th guy!?), and just going out there and ballin'.
Well, they have been ballin', and they'll need to keep ballin' if they want to improve that terrible road record.
The Dallas game is very winnable; if you're memory is as good as mine, you'll remember that Aldridge nearly beat the Mavericks, then the NBA's top team, all by himself. That Mavs team will likely be without Dirk Nowitzki, and will definitely be without Caron Butler, so Portland should be going into American Airlines Arena feeling very confident.
They also play the Rockets again the next night. If they can fight the fatigue and do what they did here, they can win that one too.
Portland finishes up against Minnesota, then hosts the Heat and Knicks.
The last two games can be won, and here's why:
One: The Blazers have put up 100 points in their last three home games. Granted, the Bucks and Rockets are not defensive mavens, but sandwiched between them are the Jazz. If you can hang 100 on Utah, you can do it against most anybody when you are on all cylinders.
Two: Marcus Camby combines with Aldridge and Nicolas Batum to form one of the best offensive rebounding front lines in the NBA.
Don't be fooled by the fact that the Blazers are 22nd in rebounding (given that they out-rebound their opposition much more often than not, I think that stat is bogus)—their offensive rebounding has kept them in most of their games, and even won some of them.
Three: They are getting out in transition much more often lately. This is especially true when Patty Mills comes in the game—when Batum, Wesley Matthews and/or Rudy Fernandez are on the wings, looking to run, Mills is more than happy to oblige them.
An added bonus is that Aldridge has always ran the floor extremely well for a big man, and is an explosive finisher when trailing a break.
Call it a hunch, but I feel like the Portland Trail Blazers are starting to hit their stride. I just hope that the rest of the NBA continues to judge this team by their injury report instead of their play on the floor.