mikebarrett

Mar 06

The "Opportunity" Road Trip

By mikebarrett
Some have been calling this the "make or break road trip," and yes, I was even guilty of saying something like that following Monday's game against New Orleans.  It's not that I don't at least partially agree with that title, because I do.  But, after closer inspection, what this road trip presents to the Trail Blazers is a chance to get away, get together, focus, and begin to turn around what has been a very disappointing stretch.

I know it's not like a media-type to steer away from an opportunity to be cynical, but it's my hope that this team sees this as a big opportunity.  It's a chance erase some of the road woes, put to bed the notion that this team is already looking toward the off season, and chance to rebuild. While it's true that a winning record will be very, very difficult to achieve on this trip, in the end that won't be the true measure of what kind of a trip it was when it's all over.

It starts Wednesday in Minneapolis, and I actually think this is the perfect way to begin this trip. If you're looking for a measuring-stick game, this will be it right off the bat on this jaunt.  To say that this first game could set the tone for the rest of the trip is an understatement.

The Timberwolves just beat the Trail Blazers on Saturday night at the Rose Garden, and had a grand time doing it.  The memory is fresh in the minds of the Portland players.  That's a good thing.  

LaMarcus Aldridge had just 14 points, and had to watch as Kevin Love dominated the middle, and the outside, putting up 42.  We're going to see what Aldridge is made of on Wednesday night.  Motivation shouldn't be an issue for Aldridge, or for his teammates.  Not only did they drop a key game to the Wolves at the Rose Garden, but saw their 16-game winning streak over Minnesota come to a crashing halt.

The Timberwolves are a very hot team, and had their confidence bolstered even more on Monday night when they beat the Clippers at the Target Center on their first home game back after their long trip.  

The Trail Blazers, meanwhile, picked up a win over New Orleans on Monday, and at least stopped the bleeding.  It wasn't a thing of beauty, but did improve to 3-0 against the Hornets this season.  New Orleans was playing its best ball of the season coming into that game, having picked up impressive wins over Dallas, Utah, and at New York, Cleveland, and Milwaukee, in their last 10.  So, while beating them didn't exactly send shockwaves around the NBA, it was probably a better win than it appeared.

Raymond Felton had a good game against the Hornets, scoring 11 points, dishing out 10 assists, and turned the ball over only one time.  If you're looking for a key player on this trip for Portland, in my opinion, it's Felton.  He hasn't responded well to pressure so far this season, but it's on him to get the Blazers off to a good start.  As much as we'll concentrate on the Aldridge/Love matchup before Wednesday night's game, the point-guard battle will be huge.

After the game against the Timberwolves, we'll head to Boston to get ready for the second game.  Then, it's Washington, Indiana, New York, Chicago, and Oklahoma City, before we head back home.  Yes, that's brutal.  It gets worse when you consider that the Blazers won't catch a single team on this trip that'll be playing the second of a back to back.  I'm not sure how in the world that could happen, but that's the case.  

With the 22-point win over the Hornets, the Trail Blazers won their eighth game of the season by 20 points or more.  No other Western Conference team has more than four wins over 20 or more.  That's a strange stat.  And, Portland's point differential is now +4.2 for the season, second behind only Oklahoma City in the west.  Does that mean the Blazers are a heck of a lot better than their record?  I've been asked that question a lot, and it's tough to answer.  The numbers certainly suggest that.  Perhaps that's why I'm still clinging to the notion that they still have time to turn this around.

Along with Aldridge and Felton, there is another Portland player who I think is a key to this trip, and it might surprise you.  You will be seeing more and more of Elliot Williams, as he has proven to Nate McMillan that he plays the right way.  For Nate, as you probably know, that's huge.  I had a long conversation with Nate, about Elliot, before we boarded our flight on Tuesday morning.  There's a budding love affair growing there.  He's beginning to trust Williams, and I think you'll see his minutes increase on this trip.  Elliot has 48 points in 55 minutes in the last seven games, and continues to grow into a player who can get to the rim and break down a defense.  The Blazers don't have many of those.

After this road trip, the Trail Blazers will begin a stretch where they'll play 8 of 10 at home. Now, the home-court advantage hasn't been what we're used to, but that's a very good thing. So, this trip isn't as much about being spectacular as it is about survival.

What would that look like in terms of a record on this trip?  You tell me.




 
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26 Comments

  1. Guess you're a bit tired after a long plane trip, Mike, but we beat NO by 12, not 22. it could have been 22 but we coasted at the end.

    You're clearly correct about Felton being the most critical Blazer on this trip. The point has been our most inconsistent position by far this season. If Felton can play close to how he played against NO, we could come home still in the playoff hunt. Otherwise, we are probably going to be out of it. .

    I've also been loving EW's play in his last several games. Not only has he scored almost a point a minute, but his shooting was up to 50% before the NO game. Considering how low it was early in the year, that's a huge improvement. And he can only get better. The only problem is getting him minutes. As a 2, he plays behind Batum and Matthews. So most of his minutes must come either (a) when those two or Wallace is on the bench; or (B) when the team goes small. A trade could change all that though...
    --
    don

    by dgpdx on 3/6/2012 11:00 PM
  2. Need to go 7-0

    Likely to go 1-6

    Indiana is a much tougher team. We never beat Boston. Minnesota is just much better at this point, and playing a lot more together than the Blazers. OKC and Chicago... get real. New York and Washington are our best bet.

    I hate to say it, I really do, but I don't trust this team. We have no idea which team is going to come out. It's all hustle, energy, and care. And honestly, I don't think they care. The playoffs would be like winning the championship. Basically, a good dream to have, but not a real one. The Blazers aren't in control of their own destiny anymore. They need teams to lose, and that's never in a good position to be in.

    At the start of the season, the concern was playing a full 48 minutes. Then it became unable to win on the road. Then it became unable to close. Then it became defense. Then it became being unable to win... at all.

    I wish I shared the same optimism as everyone else, and I hate making post like these that sound so negative, but I just don't see the Blazers in the playoffs this year. And if they do make it, their a first round exit. Same garbage we've seen the past 3 years. It might just be better to miss the playoffs, watch and play for entertainment, and get a decent draft. I hear the upcoming draft is good. Maybe we'll get lucky and Nate won't resign, so we can get a new coach that will actually play rookies minutes instead of having a 7-8 guy lineup.

    So, our best chance at winning a game is in Washington. However, even that is sketchy. Washington already DESTROYED the Blazers in Portland, and correct me if I'm wrong but the Blazers lost the last 2 meetings in DC as well.

    If the Blazers are to prove me wrong, they NEED to win against Minnesota. That game is likely the most important so far in the season. A win there puts them in 8th seed and it should only be a push forward after that. It also ties the season series against Minnesota, and that's much better than being down 0-2 against them.

    A loss does that, and puts the Blazers below .500 in early March. That's not an easy hole to climb out of, especially with how terribly inconsistent this team has been.

    I say the Blazers finish the season at .500, and miss the playoffs as 10th seed. The current teams in the playoffs... none of them are missing it. Houston has the best chance of falling out, and they're better than the Blazers.

    Just go for a draft pick. Trade Felton and Wallace/Mathews for Nash. Get rid of Camby and get a center that can box out. The Blazers should build around Nico and LaMarcus. Find a guard that isn't just a good bench player (IE Mathews). Find a point guard that doesn't think he's playing well when he's clearly not. Find a starting SF that shows up 100% of the time (Nico works great). Find a coach that trusts his team, knows how to make plays besides the mediocre pick n roll jumpshot, and plays more than 6-7 guys.

    We have our core, now we just need to know who to put around it. Clearly, these guys are not. I think the only players that SHOULD be safe are LaMarcus (who looks like he's put his foot off the pedal after being called an all star), Batum, Crawford, and Pryzbilla. Everyone else at this point are just trade bait. Blazers need to make a trade otherwise we're taking steps backwards.

    Shows how much this team misses a guy like Roy...

    by Herr on 3/6/2012 11:55 PM
  3. Maybe this team will finally gel on this trip. Maybe they'll play really well and go 3-4. Maybe a miracle will happen and they do even better. 2-5 seems a lot safer bet. At which point I think it's time to start playing for a future. So if this all goes south the way we fear, I agree that almost everyone except Aldridge and Batum should be trade bait.

    I'm pretty much in agreement with HG about where we are and what to do except the final comment about Roy. Everyone uses that as an excuse, but they really didn't have Roy last year and still played much better than this season. I think the problem has been more on the lines of: 1)Too many new faces in a season with no real training camp 2) Too many old players kept or brought in for the sake of short-term gain 3) Nate's problem with giving young players enough court time 4) The utter failure of the exchange of Andre Miller for Raymond Felton and 5) The decision to have two starting small forwards on the roster. It took forever for Nate to try what I was recommending at the start of the season and use Nic at the two. And to be honest, I'm less thrilled with Gerald Wallace every game that goes by. Yes, his drive and energy sometimes create a force that sweeps opponents away. Sometimes. Not often enough. But every night he shows that his hustle comes with a price. He's simply not refined. He misses a couple of shots at the rim every night. He commits an offensive foul every night. He clunks a number of open threes every night. He bobbles the ball on the catch every night. And on some nights, like the last, he shows off an uncanny ability to make one terrible pass after another.
    I still enjoy watching this team at times, but I'm spending more and more time yelling at the TV over bonehead plays I've seen too many times. I'm not sure what's worse, our record low scoring first quarter against the Lakers, or giving up 40 in the first against Minnesota. It has been fun to have Joel around again, and I think I might even approve of Jamaal if he wasn't forced into playing the point. But win or lose, I suspect it would be even more fun to see what Elliot and the rest of the bench crew could do in an extended tryout for a role on next year's team.

    by Islander on 3/7/2012 1:24 AM
  4. why is this the "opportunity" road trip mb? opportunity was all those previous games that the blazers shouldve won; wash, laclip, den, min, atl, lalak and miami. i say miami because there is no way 2 guys cant be contained is ridiculous in thought when this game is a 5 on 5 sport. yeah wade and lebaby are in top 5 in the league, but things couldve been done to change the outcome of that game. the hornets game was a fluke because they barely held on to win. back to this road trip, i dont have high hopes for this team on the road. their confidence is low at best and they havent played like a team the whole time during the crappy play as of late. i have seen some predictions on this "opportunity" road trip and ppl are saying 3-4, i say 5-2 but that is because on paper these blazers look better than some of these teams. boston and chicago can be beaten by merely cutting the heads of the snakes that kill the body. rondo and rose, good point guards, but if they can be stopped or slowed down then the blazers have a chance to pull off a couple of upsets. yes, i have been down on the blazers, but hey if they can do something odd during this time away from the rose garden then maybe they can salvage at least their dignity moving forward. on a final note, they still need to make some moves before the trade deadline because this team needs some new faces, a new attitude and most importantly some guys who want to win ball games. camby, matthews, felton, wallace and thomas all need new locals.

    by Imwytdashyt Epps on 3/7/2012 11:25 AM
  5. I liked some of the things I saw on Monday against NO. They had a fantastic stretch late in the 3rd. But lets not forget that NO is by no means a very good team. Yes, they're improving as the season goes along, but I don't think we can call it a get-well game.

    Like you said, I think this road trip will really show what the Blazers are made of and whether they have any chance of salvaging the season. Washington, Indiana and NY are should-win games, if the Blazers play up to their potential. But that's still 3 of 7. The Blazers are going to have to steal a few in order to come out of this trip with a winning record. Coming back to town it gets a little easier, but not much. Having the Lakers and the Clips on the 2nd night of back-to-backs is brutal, not to mention both of those games are in L.A. Then in April you have all but 5 games (out of 14) vs teams that are .500 or better. Many of those teams have already manhandled the Blazers at least once.

    In short, the Blazers will have to play their best basketball for 48 minutes of nearly every game from now until april 26th in order to have any hope of getting into the playoffs. This road trip will tell us pretty quickly if they have it in them.

    by soulseeker on 3/7/2012 3:40 PM
  6. About the Love/Aldridge matchup. You stated we will see what LaMarcus is made of. I agree. LMA will come out and play his game. His allstar hangover will start feeling better. However don't compare his numbers to Kevin. Love is playing his way into conversation about league MVP. That's right MVP. If the wolves make the playoffs he has to be mentioned. What a player. Rebounding monster. 3 point threat. He probably came out of the lockout more ready than any player. Reminds me a little of Lambier only better. LMA and Love both play the 4 but don't compare their numbers. They play different styles. LMA will need help from his friends. Would be a huge win for the Blazers. Wolves are HOT.
    No way to predict road record on this trip. Too strange of a year. All around the league. GO BLAZERS!!!

    by Divotking on 3/7/2012 5:10 PM
  7. There we go. LMA got his numbers, 22 and 7. Felton went off. Gerald nearly a triple double. Minnesota still comes away with a win. They are playing some inspired ball.
    Two things stood out to me. First, same old thing. Outrebounded once again. We just don't put a body on someone.
    Second, at one point Jamal was 2 for 8. Felton needed a rest so Nate had Jamal at the point. Barrea and Ridnour were playing well. Jamal can't handle them on the defensive end. He wasn't making up for that by scoring the ball. Perfect time to bring in Nolan. It appears Nate has a love affair with Jamal.
    Time is running out. We need to put players on the floor according to who's hot. More importantly pull the players who are not. Time is running out.

    by Divotking on 3/7/2012 8:24 PM
  8. maybe i had blazer goggles that made me see the blazers the same way beer goggles make drunk dudes see ugly chick. well, those goggles are gone.

    by thedanman on 3/7/2012 11:03 PM
  9. You're right on, DIvotking, outrebounded by a team missing its starting center. This team is like a handmade sports car, it needs everything working perfectly to perform its best. When one or two things are misfiring, it's stuck at the curb.
    --
    don

    by dgpdx on 3/8/2012 2:54 AM
  10. Same cast, same effort, same result.

    by Ancientone on 3/8/2012 5:11 PM
  11. dgpdx;
    Early in the year MB asked what our concerns about this team were. Mine were rebounding and backup point. That was before our starting point guard turned out to have sub par year. About rebounding, LMA is not a strong rebounding 4. Camby can't play big minutes. We go small a lot.

    by Divotking on 3/8/2012 5:22 PM
  12. Ancientone;
    What happened to Hg. Is he ok? I don't see him as being a fair weather fan.

    by Divotking on 3/8/2012 5:25 PM
  13. @Divotking: Agreed on LA, he's a good rebounder but not a great one like Love. LA's best games come when his outside shot is falling, he can be almost automatic out to 22 feet on a variety of moves.

    Not only are Camby's minutes limited but it seems he's suddenly feeling his age. He still has bursts of great play but they're becoming more rare. Maybe his last year, or two at most?

    As for the point, who knows???
    --
    dg

    by dgpdx on 3/8/2012 8:46 PM
  14. Right now my hopes for shoring our rebounding woes rest on the shoulders of a player that is 30 plus years old. Has had 2 recent knee operations. Is back from retirement and is playing his first basketball in about a year. That's worrisome. I am not knocking Pryz. He's about the toughest guy we have. It shows how weak of a rebounding team we have become.

    by Divotking on 3/8/2012 9:30 PM
  15. Hey Divotking: I am not a fair whether fan, My schedule has been very busy and postponing my work to watch games then trying to catch up has got me behind on my blogging. That, plus I have been spending a lot of time on Blazers Edge keeping up on the trade rumors.
    Somehow or another this Mike's blog didn't show up on my e-mail. and I just missed it.

    I am still here buddy, thanks for your concern.

    by Hg on 3/9/2012 9:52 AM
  16. Hg;
    Glad your back. We don't always agree on things but that's ok. I like to hear what is on everyone's mind concerning the Blazers. Many different perspectives. Right now it is half time of the Boston game. OUCH

    by Divotking on 3/9/2012 5:54 PM
  17. Is this a team in disarray or what?
    --
    don

    by dgpdx on 3/9/2012 8:05 PM
  18. I am at a loss for words. We started 7-2. Since then what are we 12-19 ? I can't remember the last solid win. Was it OKC? Have we had a last second game winning shot this year? Not a lot to feel good about. That is the reality. Not much season left. I hope something happens to bring some sunshine.

    by Divotking on 3/9/2012 8:24 PM
  19. Good to see you Hg. I don't know how you keep up with your work with the schedule being shortened. I

    I think, looking at Camby that the compressed schedule couldn't have come at a worse time in his career. I don't think his body is willing to keep up with this schedule.

    by Ancientone on 3/9/2012 8:57 PM
  20. Divotking: Speaking of Hg being gone for a while, where is Mike B.

    by Ancientone on 3/9/2012 8:59 PM
  21. Ancientone;
    MB may be at a loss for words the same as I am. He has an uncanny gift of finding a positive in a discouraging situation. I'm sure he will be back. This Boston game is going to be tough on him. He'll come through.
    I look forward to reading your blog Mike. On our 6 game road trip you went 6 for 6. No pressure.

    by Divotking on 3/9/2012 9:50 PM
  22. I really didn't stop posting entirely, this blog just slipped by me and I found it on line today. I was waiting on Mike.

    But in actuallity I might be the same as you Divotking. Speechless with not much to say. BTW, I don't feel we disagree that much, It is that I debate your opinion and learn by it. It is like if you said the Blazers are stinking up the place, i couldn't disagree with you in the least, but I am like Mike, I would look at the few good things they do. They our rebounded the Celtics tonight, that is good,

    I mostly feel we can be unhappy for what the Blazers gives us or happy with what they give us, either way that is all we are going to get.

    I also feel they are feeling the pressure of the trade-deadline and when that is over they might find the passion for BB again. Of course that may be to late.

    I thought the end of the bench played with more passion then any of the starting five.

    I got really angry because the Celtic announcers all but laughed at the Blazers.

    Will we beat Washington tomorrow night? I am not sure if we can beat anybody right now.

    better quit this before you, Ancientone, gains some of the wt back that you may have lost while I was gone.

    by Hg on 3/10/2012 5:50 AM
  23. What are the odds now of a 0-7 road trip? Our best chances for a win are at Washington and New York, but they are likely licking their chops to get at us while we're down. Our best hope may be for another lottery miracle..
    --
    don

    by dgpdx on 3/10/2012 12:17 AM
  24. Don: At the present Blazers funk, I am not sure they have what it takes to beat anybody. We sure need somebody that can handle ball pressure and fast back court of the opponents and if I remember right Washington has the ability to apply ball pressure and have guards that can whiz by the napping Felton.

    If we think Minny and the Celtics burned us with great Offense, what are our guards going to do with the NY wonderboy?

    by Hg on 3/10/2012 5:57 AM
  25. Strange stat line. Outrebounded Boston by 20. Portland turned the ball over I think 27 times. Boston went on a 22-0 run. Portland had fumble fingers. Boston was hungry. At one point we were down FORTY. That's one for the garbage bin.

    by Divotking on 3/10/2012 7:23 AM
  26. Divotking; I would never blame the refs LMAO. but I thought the Blazers needed a couple of players to run interference for our ball mover to stop the gang tackling.

    by Hg on 3/10/2012 7:45 AM
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