At the beginning of the year, many people considered the Portland Trail Blazers a dark horse to win the NBA Finals. They had a superstar in Brandon Roy, a front court loaded with star potential in Greg Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge, and an excellent supporting cast. But as usual, the Blazers' promise quickly evaporated due to devastating injuries—Greg Oden went out for the season before it even began, and Brandon Roy shocked American basketball fans by saying that his knees could be permanently screwed up, and that his career would likely never be the same. This went along with the fact that he'd be out for most of the season.
The Trail Blazers had lost their two biggest hopes, but they still had several good young players, an enthusiastic fan base, and an excellent coach. They were no longer championship contenders, but they were still playoff hopefuls. What they needed was somebody to step up and take control, because despite their remaining assets, the team quickly slipped below .500. And LaMarcus Aldridge decided to be that guy.
With two games left in the season, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, with eight rebounds, and both a steal and a block to go along with two assists. These stats were even higher a couple of months ago, before the addition of all-star Gerald Wallace. He has probably earned this year's honors as the biggest all-star snub. Some people think he even deserves MVP votes, because the award isn't just about having the best stats. It's about how much you contribute to the team, and the way he carried his team this season was extraordinary.
Now that the team has obtained some star status, the stellar group of role players is doing its jobs, and it looks like the team has earned itself the 6th seed in the playoffs. The team is better and healthier than it has been all season, so many people have set high postseason expectations for the Portland Trail Blazers. In no particular order, here are ten reasons that the Blazers have a chance to live up to these expectations.
They say the most important position is the point guard, right? And you may be thinking, “Then how does Andre Miller support your argument?” Well, I’ll ask you if you knew that he had the 14th most assists of all time. Even more than Bob Cousy. Sure he’s 35 years old and past his prime, but he can still play good defense, averaging 1.5 steals per game. He’s not too athletic anymore, but the only people he really has to worry about are Russell Westbrook, and to some degree, Tony Parker.
13 points with seven assists isn’t going to wind you up in the D-League either. He is an example of toughness and consistency, and has been a key factor in the injury-plagued Blazers not getting wrecked this year because of the injuries. He leads his team through thick and thin, and he often excels when things are looking thin (or is it thick?), and every good team has at least a temporary breakdown in the playoffs. Most importantly, he is always under the radar.
In case you were wondering, they’ll probably play Dallas first in the playoffs. He happened to drop 52 in one game against them last year.
Brandon Roy will be a superstar again if he can simply “hit his stride”.
I’m referring to his knees, which have been okay since he came back. If he can continue to even be close to what he once was, he’ll be able to score at least 12 points per game, he’ll come up in the clutch, he’ll play anywhere from a big 1 to a small 3, and he’ll be able to contain other Western Conference shooting guards like Manu Ginobili and Kobe Bryant. And he’s happy to play sixth man.
Where does one begin when they talk about the impact of Crash?
Year after year, Gerald Wallace is maybe the most underrated player. He gets national recognition for his stellar defense, but he does so much more. He can drop 20 without trying, and he can play inside or out as he can drive, shoot, pass and rebound. Add those to some of the best athleticism of our time, and you have a guy who has only made one all-star team.
And don’t worry about chemistry with him: he has already dropped 40 since taking his talents to the City of Roses. Still, his greatest talents are without the ball.
An important part of this trade was how little their trading chips impacted the season before they got him. Sean Marks and Dante Cunningham rarely played, Joel Pryzbilla was injured, and draft picks don’t come into play in this situation, so the only change will be that you can add Crash to everything they already had.
As the adage goes, offense wins games while defense wins championships. And since Wallace came to the Blazers, they’ve been giving up roughly 91 point a game. If they did that all year, they’d be the best defensive team in the NBA. Go down their roster and you’ll see that their only “liability” in the starting five would be Nicolas Batum—the man Denver looked into as a defensive specialist not too long ago. We already talked about Gerald Wallace. Andre Miller will contain any non-superstar point guard. Batum can cover any wing at least pretty well. Brandon Roy is a defensively superb player when healthy. LaMarcus Aldridge is averaging more than both a steal and a block per game. Marcus Camby, who can start or come off the bench, is a former Defensive Player of the Year. The list goes on.
When they play their best ball, the Trail Blazers are capable of beating anybody, and I mean anybody. They have beaten all of the West’s great teams at least once this year, partially due to their very loud and enthusiastic home crowd. Although they’ll probably never have home court during the playoffs, it helps a lot to be safe at home.
The Portland Trail Blazers can pride themselves on their bench. Almost every player on their team is very versatile, and they have many options to go to who would probably be starters on other teams. Rudy Fernandez is a 6’7” combo-guard who can fly, facilitate, and hit big threes. Brandon Roy is Brandon Roy. Marcus Camby can play the power forward or the center, and is very consistent on the intangibles. Patty Mills provides yet more energy to the point guard position, and Wesley Matthews can score and help out in a variety of ways in a variety of positions.
At the beginning of the year, they lost Greg Oden and Brandon Roy. They didn’t respond well, having a losing record. But then LaMarcus Aldridge just took over, and since then, they’ve gotten healthy, and they’ve added Gerald Wallace into the mix. So, think about how good they are right now by wins and losses, and then think about how they’d be if they’d had Brandon Roy and Gerald Wallace all year, and if LaMarcus Aldridge had been the boss he is now all year. That’s how good they really are. Also note that they sacrificed little to have Roy and Wallace, so they basically lost nothing to gain two all-stars to their championship resume. They’d be at least a 50-55 win team.
Many people think that the Trail Blazers will breeze past Dallas due to previous games and the specific match-ups. I think this might be pushing it, but don’t forget that the Mavericks don’t have an ideal playoffs track record. The Trail Blazers are very similar to Dallas in match-ups; They have their veteran point guards, an excellent sixth-man in the guard spot, and a big center doing the intangibles; they both run the game through their power forwards. If Batum can fare well enough against whomever he has to match up with, probably Shawn Marion, then look for the Mavericks to come up answerless for Gerald Wallace. The Lakers have won three out of four meetings this year, but Portland has given them a run for their money. The possibility there is simply that having Bynum, Odom, and Gasol on the court could outsize the Trail Blazers' front court. If they played Oklahoma City, the only major threat would be Westbrook beating up on Andre Miller. But there are many other factors. They’ve had no trouble with the Spurs thus far. And remember, all previous meetings were not at strength for the Blazers.
The Trail Blazers are very much overdue to win in the postseason. Let me put it this way: The last time the Portland Trail Blazers won a playoff series, a democrat had just left office.
So anything can happen, right? In 2007, the Warriors knocked off the #1 seeded Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. In fact, it was with relative ease. It doesn’t even matter that they then got destroyed by the Jazz. In the playoffs, there are always upsets, mishaps, and utter failures. Some people collapse under the pressure, and some thrive. So the Trail Blazers should eat their Wheaties, play their game, and hope for the best.
Say they do win the West. If they continued to play so well, they would definitely have a shot against the Celtics. If the Magic got there again, that would be extremely interesting. Although Dwight Howard would simply be too large on the inside, the forward position would heavily, heavily favor Portland. That one could go either way. I don’t hesitate to say that the Trail Blazers would probably beat the Heat, also. They’d simply have too many answers for the big three. Wesley Matthews, Gerald Wallace, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum—they’d all be able to tag team against Wade, LeBron, and Bosh. They wouldn’t “stop” them, but I think they’d do enough to beat them in six games at the very most. What they don’t want is to face the Bulls. Joakim Noah would be hard to stop on the boards, and they’d have nobody to contain Derrick Rose. Although the season series was split one to one, I’d definitely take the Bulls there.
The odds are that they’ll be knocked out by the end of the second round. But next year they’ll have Greg “Bill Russell” Oden back, if they resign him. Then I believe they’ll emerge as early front runners to win it all.