By this point, this is not the Portland team that started the season. These Blazers understand how their teammates play, where they are on the floor, how they defend, and how they work together. Their rebounding should be well above average, their zones comfortable and effective, their rotations quick and pointed, and young guns like Greg Oden, Rudy Fernandez, and perhaps Jerryd Bayless will have found their roles and be performing to expectations.
When Indiana comes into town they will run into a confident, still improving team that is starting to really click. Portland should have improving shooting percentages, decreasing opponent field goal percentages, and keep adding to the win column. Indiana will be another win for the Blazers.
The next night they travel to Denver for the second end of a back to back. Denver will be surprising people. They are better than they are being given credit for. Iverson, Smith, Nene, Anthony...with all the minutes Anthony and Iverson play and the added firepower of Smith, this team will score a ton of points. Whether they can slow teams down consistently is another matter. On this night, they will and Portland will lose.
Home for a get well game against the T-wolves. This game should be an easy W for Portland.
But don't scoff...every "easy" win builds confidence for the tough games. Like, say, against the Lakers who now come into town. Portland has been very competitive with L.A. and both teams are out to make a statement in this game. Portland will rise up, show their spirit and use the home court to beat a Laker team that will have a sparkling record.
Only one game off their win total from last year, Portland now faces a Mavericks team that will have slipped some from last year. Overconfidence leads to sloppiness, Jason Kidd has one of those games that reminds you of why team after team wrecks itself to bring him aboard...because, when he is right, he can single-handed win games. Portland loses a home game.
The Nets now come into town. I have heard pre-season rumblings that a lot of Nets fans think they will be better than advertised. Maybe. Maybe Brook Lopez will be everything they hope for, the loss of Richard Jefferson won't be felt, Vince Carter will become Vinsanity again and Yi Jianlian will be ready to play, surprising everyone including himself. The more likely scenario for them to be competitive this year involves bringing out of retirement Darryl Dawkins, Dr. J., etc. and getting one more run from a rejuvenated Nets Hall of Fame team...Portland continues their winning ways and matches their win total from last season.
On the road for what ties for their longest road trip of the year, though this one is a bit softer than the earlier long trips. First up is Atlanta. Brandon Roy and Joe Johnson are starting to develop a rivalry. Unfortunately for Joe Johnson, Roy has his number on defense and Johnson supplies a lot more at the offensive end than on defense so Roy's superior defense causes fits for the Hawks. Meanwhile, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden should have a field day as Portland gets the road trip off to a good start.
The next night is in Memphis, the back to back scenario. This is a good chance for the Grizzlies to pull off an upset. They catch a Portland team at the beginning of a long trip, theoretically tired from the night before. But here is where Portland shows their youth is an asset. Behind the veteran-like leadership of Brandon Roy, they come out and establish themselves early, never look back and win back to back road games.
Now Portland visits Indiana. Jarrett Jack was much maligned in Portland and unfairly. He did a decent job and will do the same for Indianapolis. Unfortunately for Pacers fans, with the departure of Jermaine O'Neal they have lost too much inside presence and won't be able to deal with the Blazers as the Blazers, looking good, win their third road game in a row.
The next night they go to Cleveland. Game 4 of a road trip for a back to back to a team that is in their head. Not an easy game and not one Portland will win.
Next up is the Bucks, closing out the road trip. A win here would be huge, even against an out-manned Bucks team, but it will be just a bit too much to ask and Portland will lose this game.
Home to face the 76ers. This time Portland gets the job done. Winning in the Rose Garden will be a tough task for every team not named the Trailblazers this year and only the very best teams will be able to do it. Portland will focus on making that home court advantage stick and even with the addition of Elton Brand, Philadelphia is not ready.
The Suns will arrive with a heavy dose of winning in their recent history. That ends here as Oden will have come into his own, Joel Przybilla continues to be a stellar back-up, and Portland is no longer afraid of the Suns. The mystique will have ended and the Blazers hold home court against Phoenix.
In come the Grizzlies and this one is over early. Portland blows them out.
Now the Jazz come to town. Portland has been playing well enough to win most of the games they should but stumbling just often enough to remind people that many prognosticators had them winning in the mid 40s for games this year. This is one of those times where we get reminded Portland is not ready for a deep playoff run yet as they fall at home to the Jazz.