Numbers and Complications
Well, as we all know the playoffs are here, and Portland will be in them. The main head scratcher is, being up 1 game to Memphis, and 1 game behind NOH (since they own the tie-breaker), we have a chance to go against Dallas, who is REALLY struggling right now and has a history of panicking in the playoffs. If not, we go against the San Antonio Spurs, or the Las Angelos Lakers. If we fall to that level, I say bring on the Lakers. You're not going to beat the Spurs, despite the record against them (more on that later). With the Lakers, you will learn more. Ultimately, in the Western Conference at this point, the Lakers are the top dog, and it all comes down to being able to beat the Lakers. They are the proven champions, as much as we hate to say it, so if we play a playoff series against them, even if you lose, you benefit. Losing to a team like Dallas, OKC, or SAS won't get you far. Dallas, and San Antonio aren't the future of the Western Conference. OKC may be, but I still say the Lakers have a lot of fuel in their tank to continue to win championships. So believe me, we do not want the San Antonio Spurs.
So, I have done the numbers. Obviously, the teams to watch are New Orleans, Memphis, and obviously the Blazers. So, let's dig into those Numbers and Complications, because hindsight is a pain.
First, let's look at Portland. Portland's remaining schedule is @Utah, vs LAL, vs Memphis, @ GSW. All I'll say right now is that I'm considering the first 3 games wins, and the last game a loss. Golden State is a professional team at being the thorn in the rear side. They did it to the Lakers, and to the Blazers. They also recently beat Dallas. This team is playing with 0 pressure going against teams with all the pressure. They're playing to have fun, and when teams do that, they take chances. A team like Golden State, who averages 103 points a game, is a team you do not want taking chances against you, because that's going to bury you. So, let's automatically consider that a loss for realistic purposes.
However, the Portland Trail Blazers have a choice to make. Obviously, we are more improved than the Utah Jazz. They are below .500 I believe, and we're 12 games ahead of .500. This is a must win game. Portland needs to come out with everyone and everything. If they lose this game, the Lakers are going to beat us on Friday. If we win this game, we're going to beat the Lakers on Friday. The Lakers seem to have turned the switch off. Tonight, they played balanced minutes for the guys that are going to be seeing the most minutes in the playoffs. Ellis, Lee, and Curry all played 40+ minutes tonight. Kobe, Artest, Bynum, Gasol, Odom, and Fisher all played less than 35 minutes tonight. They are resting. Also, I'd bet all my money if I had any that Portland is the team LAL wants to avoid in the first round. They do not want to go against us. Despite the 3-0 record against us, which is also deceiving (more on that also), we are a team to be reckoned with. They do not want us in the first round, especially if they can go against NOH (who they swept convincingly) and Memphis (Who is 2-2, but LAL was in their down times against them). If we lose at Utah, that basically says we're going against the Lakers in the first round, and they'll try to send a message. If we beat Utah tonight, the Lakers are likely to say, "eh, we don't want these guys, let's rest up for the playoffs and help Blazers get 3rd so we only see them in the 2nd round" and play a lackluster game. That is just my theory obviously, but obviously a team doesn't go 17-1 and then go to 0-3 if they were actually trying to play as hard as they can.
So, let's assume Portland ends with a record of 48-34
. Meaning they go 3-1 in their last 4 games.
Let's now look at Memphis. Memphis, who is 44-34 currently and one game behind us, has a remaining schedule of vs Sacramento, vs NOH, @ Portland, and @ LAC. I've got them going 3-1 as well, losing to Portland. We really need this team to win against the Hornets, and I've got them doing so. However, I also didn't expect Houston to let us down tonight, but again, these are just theories. They saw what Sactown did to Houston, so I don't see them pulling the upset. I also see them trying in Portland, but I just think Portland is the overall better team, and should put that game away. I also got them winning at the Clippers, but who knows. Clippers are probably better than their record, and have absolutely no pressure. But, at this point, Memphis might as well go for 8th to avoid the Lakers, since they actually give the Spurs trouble. Memphis isn't going past the first round regardless of who they play in my opinion.
So, let's assume Memphis goes 3-1 and has an ending record of 47-35.
Now let's look at the bad guys, the New Orleans Hornets. We're going to want our first round opponent that we're aiming for to help us out here. New Orleans, sitting at 45-33, owning the tiebreaker of the Blazers, so we need them to lose at least one more and us to sweep, or for us to go 2-2 in their last 2, which is what I have them doing. Honestly, if we looked at their schedule at the start of the season, they'd have the hardest 4 games of the season, and honestly still might. They have vs Phoenix, @ Memphis, vs Utah, and @Dallas. Obviously, I have them losing to Memphis, and I pray to God they do. I also have them losing to Dallas at the end. Dallas is now only 1 game up on the lose column of the Thunder. Dallas made it clear they want PDX in the first round. They do NOT want Denver, who convincingly beat them this season, in the first round, and do not want the 4th seed. So, the thought of them sleeping in the final games isn't happening. This team is playing for the 3rd seed, and they'll fight NOH if that's the case. Hopefully it still is. I have them beating the "bugs". So, I'm predicting that NOH is going 2-2 in their last 4 games. That will place them at 47-35, tied with Memphis. They would be tied 2-2 for the season series, but NOH at this moment leads in the division, so they would 7th, and Memphis would be 8th.
So, let's assume that NOH goes 2-2, they would be at 47-35.
Now let's assume Portland loses tomorrow. Tomorrow is a big decider in their playoff picture. They lose that, it's game over, and I promise you that. Might as well drop all the games if you lose tomorrow, if you want the Spurs. HOWEVER, since I did say the Spurs are deceiving in our records, let me explain why. They man-handled us when they were undefeated at home. We were in a bad slump ourselves, but that's how it'll be in San Antonio. Next we convincingly beat them at home. After that, the Blazers were down by 4 with less than 30 seconds left. Miller got a rare steal on Parker to make us down by 2, and then Ginobli turned the ball over and Batum made his two free throws. After that, Ginobli turns it over again, and we know the rest. The chances of the Spurs making those turnovers with those veterans? Less than 10%, and that was a playoff feel game. Spurs made highly uncharacteristic turnovers. That won't happen in the playoffs.
After that, the Blazers got to play against the Spurs bench. They barely pulled away with that game, having their similar road struggles they've had all year. We should have lost that game. Yes, I understand scouting is HUGE in the playoffs, which would benefit SAS anyways, and we were playing against guys we didn't scout, but Bonner, Jefferson, and Hill also miss 3 pointers they normally put down. They shot horribly behind the arc, and a lot of the time were wide open... If they made those, Blazers lose embarrassingly. Spurs will destroy the Blazers, probably even more than the Lakers will.
Speaking of the Lakers, let's look at our last 2 games. I'm not going to get into the first game, because that was LONG ago in early November.
When we played them here at the Rose Garden, the Blazers took control late, played good defense, but played horrible offense. They got open shots, and didn't put them down. THEY were very uncharacteristic (or maybe they just suck behind the arc, that's been happening lately) in missing wide open shots they should have put down. Batum also rimmed out an alley-oop attempt. Had that gone down, we'd be 1-1 against the Lakers at that point, but Kobe tied it, and the Lakers had full momentum, and won.
Let's now look at the next matchup. It was a test that we passed, but didn't ace. Sure, Lakers didn't have Bynum, but I think that would have helped. I fear Gasol and Odom more than I do Bynum personally. Anyways, the Blazers simply choked in the final minutes. They again got open shots, but missed them. They stopped attacking the basket and stuck to stupid jumpshots again, and literally choked, and lost it. Would that happen in the playoffs? Maybe, but again, we took shots we could easily put down, but missed them again. We could easily be looking at 2-1 Blazer lead in the season series. The Lakers know this, which is why they would want to avoid us, which leads me to the theory of them wanting to purposely lose to us on Friday.
Can we beat the Lakers and Spurs? Sure. Can we lose to the Mavericks? Absolutely. We don't know. It's all theories. But, I will say this. Portland needs to concentrate on going 4-0 in their final 4 games. They need to. It starts ONE game at a time. Focus on the game at hand before looking ahead. Memphis, if you beat them, won't catch you. New Orleans, likely, will drop one more game. Portland is the better of these three teams. They need to play playoff basketball against these teams and win them. If they play their hearts out and play their best and fall, that's fine. But if they get blown out by 21 against a non-playoff team, we're all going to be pissed, and you might as well drop them all to face the Spurs or Lakers.