And So it Begins...
The hay is in the barn. At least it better be. Because this countdown clock is nearing it's end.
For the second-straight season, the Trail Blazers will open the NBA season at home, against the team that sent them on vacation the previous spring. Last year, the Blazers exacted some measure of revenge when they beat the Houston Rockets on opening night. Now, they're hoping for the same kind of result when they host the Phoenix Suns at the Rose Garden.
There will new faces in Blazer uniforms, a new assistant coaching staff, and a new general manager will be sitting next to owner Paul Allen. But, the goal remains the same. And, even though there are still many questions to be answered, we start with a fresh set of 82 games. So, while we'll all be looking to draw all of our conclusions on one night, this is just the beginning of a very long race.
Obviously, the Blazers aren't starting this season at full strength. But, enough happened on Monday to at least lead us to believe that day is coming sonner than later. The start of this season may not be totally about Greg Oden (like it was last year), but it'll be tough to establish this team's ceiling until he starts playing again- which could be soon. He participated in five-on-five work for the first time since fracturing his knee cap, and expressed optimism that the end of this particular long road could be winding down for him. He also acknowledged that he felt "afraid" and has some serious mental hurdles to get over before he returns to the active roster.
As for Joel Przybilla, he says he's ready to go right now. What an emotional lift he'll provide once he takes the floor this season. We don't know yet when that will be, but clearly, if it were solely up to him, that would be in the season opener. People rolled their eyes when he set opening night as a target for his return, but it's amazing how close he came to accomplishing just that.
Oden and Przybilla will both make the first road trip of the season, which is a very good sign. That trip will begin immediately following the game against Phoenix on Tuesday night. We'll play the Suns, and then head for the airport to start a four-game road trip. A rare back-to-back set to open the season, and the longest road trip to start a season ever for this franchise. It's the Clippers on Wednesday at Staples, and then games against the Knicks, Bulls, and Bucks. In two of those games, at the Clips and at the Knicks, the Trail Blazers will be facing home openers for their opponents. That's never easy.
But, first things first.
The Blazers have a new look, but the Suns have an entirely new soul. Steve Nash is still the engineer, but their number-one scoring threat, and interior heartbeat, Amare Stoudemire is in New York. That's left Suns fans extremely concerned, and rightfully so. Add to that the fact that they struggled through an awful preseason, and you see why the expectations are not nearly so high for Phoenix. They went just 2-6 in the preseason, and took a couple of severe beatings in the process- a 129-78 loss to Toronto, and a 144-106 loss in their exhibition finale to Denver. Maybe the preseason doesn't mean as much, but it's not meaningless.
The Blazers, of course, didn't exactly tear it up in the preseason themselves. But, after losing Jeff Pendergraph in the second game, in Utah, the approach seemed to turn to a let's-just-get-through-this kind of preseason.
Monday night, on our Courtside TV/radio program, coach Nate McMillan joined us to talk about the opening of the season, Oden's eventful day, and more. Click here
to listen to that.
Also on the program we started tossing around predictions. I know, everyone does that. So, I'm not going to spend much time on our personal predictions, but I'd love to hear yours. As I've mentioned before, Mike Rice says 47 wins for the Blazers. Brian Wheeler predicted 52, and Antonio Harvey says 53. I stuck to what I said about a month ago, and that's 51. However, I think 51 gets you home-court advantage in the west this year.
I'm tempted to sit here and say that we'll know a lot more following Tuesday night's opener against Phoenix. But, I'm not even sure that's true. We still don't know what this team is like totally healthy. That's what scares the rest of the league. That's what should excite you.
What are your predictions? For the season, for the opening game, for the opening road trip? And, why?
The next time I post will be from Los Angeles, in the wee small hours, hopefully talking about a Portland win.