Red Hot and Rolling at the Break
Everyone has expectations before a season begins. Often times there are several moments during a season where you adjust your expectations. These adjustments occur for a variety of reasons. It can be a trade, a coaching change, the expected development of a certain player, or the disappointment of another. Being we're Blazer fans, our expectation adjustment is usually caused by an injury. Or two, or three.
The team started 3 and 0, and perhaps you started dreaming big right now. But, our plans were changed when it was learned Greg Oden would miss the season. The loss of Brandon Roy was huge. When it was learned that Marcus Camby would require surgery, we moved the bar again. Now, I'm not even sure what to think.
Because as unexpected and tragic as so many events have been this season, here we sit at the all-star break with an entirely new set of expecations. The bad has been trumped by the good. Our belief has been restored, and perhaps we've weathered some kind of storm.
If someone would have told you, before the season, the Trail Blazers would be 32-24 through 56 games, you probably would have shrugged and been okay with it. After all, last year's team had the exact same record through 56. But, because of all of the bitter we've faced, the sweet taste of this moment is so much more sweet than expected. Get it?
The story of this season, without a doubt, was going to be injuries once again. But now, is that really the story of this season? Or, has it been more about this team adjusting and persevering through a cruel storm?
It seems it's been about LaMarcus Aldridge reaching an entirely new level, about Wesley Matthews' free-agent signing looking like the steal of the century, and about Andre Miller's ageless leadership. It's the true value of a coach like Nate McMillan, and his staff, never allowing the team to create any alibi because of bad luck and bad timing.
It won't be told this way anywhere outside of this market, but this is team has simply been the story of the year in the NBA. You take the Big Three in Miami, I'll take the Blazers. They are much more reflective of life, and why we pour so much emotion into a pretty simple game.
Never has a 32-24 record at an all-star break seemed like a bigger accomplishment. Satisfied? No. Proud as hell? Absolutely.
Fifth place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference seemed like a pipe dream just weeks ago. But, here we are.
Wednesday night's game at the Rose Garden was this season in a nutshell. Incredible plays, disappointment, disbelief, and ultimately, victory. Not only over the New Orleans Hornets, but over fate.
Give me a power forward in the NBA who has played better over the last few weeks than Aldridge. You can't do it. Against a good defensive team, a great individual defender, and an opposing coach that knows his every move (because he taught him many of them), Aldridge scored 34 points, on 13 of 18 shooting, and came up huge in the fourth quarter once again. We've come to expect this, I know.
The Trail Blazers rallied from eight down in the second half to beat the Hornets 103-96. New Orleans took control of this game with their defense, and didn't give up the lead until just over four minutes to go. That's when Aldridge lowered his shoulder, worked his way to the middle, and scored while being fouled. Even though that was Portland's first lead of the half, they were over the hump and you knew weren't going to lose.
Miller is so smart, so instictive, and so clutch. He knows when his team needs him to score, when it needs him to pass, and when it needs him to grab a clutch offensive rebound. He scored 10 in the fourth quarter, and is right there with Aldridge when discussing MVPs of the first half of the season.
Matthews is in that conversation as well. Our big three is now Aldridge, Miller, and Matthews. That wasn't on a billboard last summer. Wesley had 24 points and 8 rebounds, and played great defense, as always. Nicolas Batum, who hit a big three pointer when the team was badly needing something positive to happen, scored 14.
To listen to Nate McMillan's post-game comments, click here
The Trail Blazers roll into the break with the NBA's longest winning streak, and as its hottest team.
Fifth place sounds terrific, even if the margin for error is still paper-thin. There's a logjam right behind Portland in the west, and guess what? There are slumps, struggles, and yes, probably injuries still to come. There are also new expecations to meet.
Yes, the team is in a great rhythm, and yes, there could be an adjustment period when Camby and Roy come back. But, that's a great problem to have.
After the break, it's four more home games, starting with the Lakers. Then, it's Denver, Atlanta, and Houston. The schedule the rest of the way is difficult, but the positive news is there are only 11 road games left in the regular season. There are 15 home games left. And, using recent history as our guide, there's a lot of drama left. Good and bad.
So, what do you