An 11-7 record is not particularly awesome and will probably have Portland about the middle of the pack or below, possibly even in the classic (and pointless) "out of the playoffs if they started today" scenario. But under the circumstances, it will be an excellent record.
They will have taken their longest road trip of the year, a trip that almost translates into an 8 game trip when you consider the only home game they have is a back to back at the end of the trip before another quick 2 game trip.
More importantly, having gone toe to toe with the NBA's best both at home and on the road, this team will realize they can play with anyone, anywhere, anytime. They will be starting to assert themselves in their roles on the team.
And promptly begin the month with another tough 4 game Eastern trip.
The first game will be in New York where D'Antoni is trying to bring the fun & gun to the Knicks. I have never particularly cared for the Knicks but if he makes them as fun to watch as the Suns were under his guidance, that is subject to change.
The Knicks have some talent but they have some issues. This should be a relatively high-scoring game, an entertaining game, and I will go out on a limb here and say a blow-out. The Blazers will have 3+ guys scoring over 20 and a couple more in double figures. They will get off to a good start with a win. 12-7
The next night they will be in Washington. Washington is another Jekyll and Hyde team that seems to start slowly, gather steam, and be dangerous by the end of the year. Agent Zero's well publicized injury issues are troubling not just because he is not on the court but also because it has a ripple effect as guys don't know if they will be starting or coming off the bench, playing point or playing the shooting guard, how many minutes they will be playing...this is unfortunate. I wish Arenas the best because he is one of the most entertaining players in basketball in many, many years. I also think even without him, in Washington on the second night of a back to back the Blazers might have too steep a hill to climb. Washington wins.
Friday they roll in to Boston. Will Boston get back to the Finals? Maybe, maybe not. Their vets are a couple miles further along their journey...but so are their young guys. Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, Big Baby...their second tier behind the Big Three could probably win close to 40 games. At home they should hold on to beat the Blazers.
The trip finishes in Toronto. The Raptors don't know what they have yet. They like what Calderon does at the point, the front line of Jermaine O' Neal and Chris Bosh is scary good, and they have filled in around those stars with guys who can perform vital functions. Yet the team is just missing...something. Something it is hard to put a finger on. They will do well in the East but I would be surprised to see them get past the second round. If this were later in the season Portland would win it, but I think they will struggle in December. Oddly, this is the time last year when they did well...
Home against Orlando. As talented as Orlando is, Portland will be angry and looking to put the hurt on someone after 2 very tough Eastern road trips in a 4 week period. Coming home to the Rose Garden, they will be ready. Orlando will go down, possibly by a lot.
Back on the road to face Utah. Last year Portland was incredible in back to backs. This year, they have the guns to make it happen but not on this night. Again, another month or so and I would think Portland would pull this off but for now, the Jazz get the win.
The next night, the second half of a back to back, home against the Clippers. Kaman and Camby are a nice start to a front line, Cuttino Mobley can still light it up on occasion, and Baron Davis will have some 40 point nights this year I would think. But they are flat-out over matched when they face Portland. Portland is better up front, better in the back court even if Boom Dizzle is better at point than anything Portland currently has. Portland has the depth, the talent, and the cohesiveness. Look for Chalupas and a blow-out as the Blazers roll past the century mark.
Next up is the Kings. K-mart will get some points, Brad Miller will look all right, and the score board will again show triple digits for the Blazers as back to back blow-out home wins occur for the first time in a long time.
So when Phoenix comes to town, Portland will be on a roll. Phoenix has had their number for a couple years but not on this night. Portland will finally get over the hump against the Suns. Oden and Przybilla will contain the Big Cactus, Aldridge and Frye will slow Stoudemire, make him work for his shots, and the sheer firepower brought by Fernandez, Outlaw, and the Blazer bench bring them a W against Phoenix.
Then on the road for the first half of a back to back against Denver. A lot of people think the loss of Camby has set Denver back, that Iverson is a step slower, and Denver is in rebuilding mode. I happen to disagree. I buy into the renewed dedication to defense they are crowing about, I think Nene will prove to be a stud, and the firepower of J.R. Smith will cause teams a lot of problems. With Kenyon Martin and Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets have a formidable front court. If they can find a way to show some team defense, this team could actually be improved from last year even with the loss of Camby. Unfortunately for Denver, most teams have improved so there are fewer easy wins for them. But they will win this one.
At home it is a different story. The home court advantage will lead to another Blazer win. With teams that are as close in talent as the Blazers and most of the teams they are chasing...including Denver...it is little things that often make the difference; slightly better shooting from the role players, a standout performance from someone, more favorable calls from the refs...the things that home court advantage often brings to the fore. Portland is too good to lose back to back games to the Nuggets and pulls this one out.
Christmas Day sees the Dallas Mavericks arrive. Last year Dallas was better. Jason Kidd is a great regular season player but when things don't go his way he becomes a cancer. On the bright side for Dallas, his arrival allows Jason Terry to possibly return to his highly effective 6th man role. Unfortunately, distractions such as the Josh Howard stuff will cost this team. They have bled off talent little by little since their Finals run.
Now, any team with Howard, Terry, Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki, and an improving Brandon Bass cannot be written off. This is still a good team with a chance at a decent seed in the playoffs. However, they will have problems matching up with Portland. Oden's power will get Desagna Diop in foul trouble, Aldridge's length will let him score almost at will, and Dallas has nobody who can stay with Brandon Roy.
The Portland advantage is even larger off the bench. When the Spanish Fly starts running and gunning and Travis Outlaw is flying around putting up shots from every angle, Dallas will find themselves in trouble. Barring some super human outburst by Dirk, this one should go Portland's way.
Toronto will arrive next. They have just enough talent to hold off Portland in Toronto...but this is in Portland. Bosh and O'Neal will have nice nights but the Blazers night will be nicer. Portland wins handily.
The month and year close out with a game against Boston. Portland is good enough to win this game. They should win it. But some how, some way, Boston will work their magic and beat Portland to sweep the season series. It will be a tough way to end the year. But there are a certain number of nights when, even on the home floor, the shots don't fall for you but do for your opponent. Maybe it is Ray Allen returning to the Pacific Northwest or Garnett going off. Who knows? But some how, Boston ends the Blazers calendar year on a down note.
Ironically, last year they were 19-13 and it was considered a huge success. How will it be viewed this year?