When Golden State ran out to an early lead and my wife got worried, I replied, "If there is one team in the lead you don't worry about when they get an early lead, it is New York. But if there are two, the second one is Golden State. They will give it all back. We might not win, but we won't get blown out."
There are also teams you definitely do not want to let get out to early double digit leads because they won't let you down. That would be teams like the Celtics, Lakers, and Spurs. In between those extremes are the rest of the league, teams that some nights will give up early leads and other nights will extend them.
To this point, Portland in the last season and a half has tended more towards the former; they gave up a huge lead against Philadelphia early last year that threatened to derail their season. Conversely, they also came back after seeing other teams run out early on.
Against Golden State, both teams had some nice runs but nothing the opposition could not recover from. Ultimately in a hard-fought contest, the Warriors made more plays down the stretch.
Against Chicago, Portland wanted and needed to show they were going to get an early lead and not going to give it up.
It was obvious early the Bulls were not going to get back in this game. When they pulled within about twenty, Coach Nate McMillan took a time-out and instantly the lead ballooned back past the thirty point mark. It is things like that which mattered in this game. Well, those and the Bulls basically quitting.
At one point some Bull made what vaguely appeared to make an entry pass. It would have been more effective if Joakim Noah either A) established position or B) did not have his back to the passer.
Since Noah never saw the pass, there was a defender between passer and intended recipient, and Noah was completely over matched, there was no surprise when the ball rocketed out of bounds untouched. The Blazers ran up court. The Bulls stood there glaring at each other, yipping about whose fault it was.
The Bulls are a team in disarray. At least, they were on this night. They don't play as a team, they don't maximize the talents of their players and don't mask their holes. As a result, when things went poorly early, they never looked like any threat at all.
In many ways, this was a forgettable game. Portland shot out to a 16-3 lead with the Bulls points coming on I believe a defensive three second call and a bad turnover that led to a break-away. In fact, four of the first seven Bulls points came that way.
But Portland did not panic. They continued to play stifling defense, pound the ball inside, rebound, and demonstrate this is a new era in Blazers history. For a couple of years now, the Blazers have been capable of building respectable leads but have not been able to maintain or extend those leads. That is no longer true.
The starters built the lead, the reserves extended it. At one point the Blazer line-up had Greg Oden, Channing Frye, Travis Outlaw, Rudy Fernandez, and Sergio Rodriguez on the floor. That is a line-up that could go .500 for the season and has potential All-Stars some day in Oden, Outlaw and Fernandez. And they are all second-unit.
Sure, at some point Oden will probably return to the starting lineup. Sure, Outlaw has not looked his best yet this season. But if you put this line-up on the floor night in and night out to start games, they will put up numbers and win games. They can score inside with Oden, Outlaw, and Fernandez.
They can score from deep with any of them but Oden. Rodriguez and Fernandez are above average at getting into the lane and Outlaw is no slouch.
AND THIS WAS THE SECOND UNIT.
That is one reason that, although before the season started I actually predicted their record at this point in the season to be 7-5, I am actually a bit disappointed. Sure, the schedule has been brutal to a historical degree, and will continue to be so for a little while, but Portland has the talent to beat any team on any night and should win far more than they lose.
Their starting line-up is well-suited to contend with any team. They can score from inside or out, they have good wing and interior defenders, and they have strong leadership in Brandon Roy and Coach Nate McMillan.
That has led to the development we have seen. Last season they won a few games nobody believed they could but even at their best, every game was a battle. This year they have the potential to have a few blow-out wins. Certainly there is no night where they should not at least have a chance to win.
It is great as a Blazer fan to see that progression. It is exciting knowing that the Blazers have road games they should expect to win. This weekend is a good example. Friday the Blazers visit Sacramento and then Saturday they are in Phoenix.
Last season, that meant they could win against the Kings but would most likely get rolled by the Suns. This year, it means they SHOULD win against the Kings and have a pretty good chance against Phoenix, though ultimately they may not yet be ready to get that gorilla off their back.
Ultimately, if the NBA is a game of runs as is often asserted, the team that does the best job of withstanding the opponent's runs while maximizing their own will have the best long-term success. Based on the Warriors and Bulls games, the Blazers look to have lots of it in the near future.
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