We've all heard the basketball commercials for the Blazers, with Brandon Roy saying that it's not about the future, but it's NOW. Not the "now" as "maybe we can do it", but the "now" as in "right now".
The time is NOW
As a passionate Blazer fan, I often find myself talking to folks that just know the team, and will sit down and watch a game if they're enjoying a nice beer at a local sports bar with the game on, but probably won't care all too much about the final outcome. They'll ask me how the team is doing, and I'll update them on. I often refer to how this team is good, and heading into the right direction, and maybe NEXT YEAR we can win a championship. I didn't realize I was repeating that until I was told, "it's always next year with the Blazers".
Patience has paid off.
After witnessing the Mavericks win their 2011 NBA title over the Miami Heat on Sunday in the NBA finals, I pondered the Blazers future seeing as their first round defeat came at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, and eventually ended up playing the best basketball against them. I came up with some interesting ideas.
John Canzano on his radio show, "the Bald Faced Truth" spoke before Portland's first round series about how Portland was the better team, and that they should beat the Mavericks. We all know the outcome, but I shook my head in agreement while listening to his show. I still believe he was correct. Portland should have won that series. Had they won that series, well... that's a different story. But the optimistic side in me says that the new season coming up is Portland's time to shine.
I often lurk the NBA forums, and see how "professional analysts" state the next upcoming teams are the Choklahoma City Thunder, the Crycago Bulls, the Miami Not-Enough-Heat, and the Los Angelos Lakers (just saying their name correctly is insulting). I then compare these teams to Portland, scratching my chin, and try to find ways why Portland doesn't belong in the list of upcoming, possible future contenders. Honestly, I cannot find reasons.
The Mavericks winning the NBA title was a heart warming story. Although I cannot personally stand the Mavericks, and wanted the Heat to win, I will have to admit it was nice seeing them win. Not because Portland played the best against them. Not because I hate the Heat (I'd rather them over the Mavs any day). Not because I like the Mavs (please, it was painful typing "like" and "Mavs" in the same sentence), but rather that they proved that any team can win this thing in this new era.
Once the Mavericks swept the Lakers (that's an understatement), a new era in the NBA was born. The last decade of NBA basketball was ruled by 3 teams. The Lakers, the Celtics, and the Spurs. It was ruled by Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan. Those eras are done, at least in my opinion. But do I see Dallas and Dirk Nowitzki dominating the 2010-2020 decade? Not at all. In fact, I don't even consider them the strongest in the west. Who do I consider the strongest? The Portland Trail Blazers.
Charles Barkley got a lot of credit during the playoffs for nearly predicting every series. What he hasn't been ragged on is what he's been predicting over the course of his entire NBA career, be it player or broadcaster. "Defense wins Championships". "Jumpshooting teams don't win championships". So, can we say the Mavs are a top dog defensive team? Can we say that they aren't a jumpshooting team? No, because thy are exactly the opposite. They shoot more jumpers than anyone, and their defense was fairly awful. Thy got a lot of credit for their defense, but Bosh and Wade tore them alive. Had LeBron even looked like a player on an All-Star ballot, the Heat could have finished the series in 4 or 5 games, rather than embarrassing themselves and losing in 6 on their homecourt in front of their 20 fans.
Let's look at the top dogs in the East. Chicago flew completely under the radar. Rose, although MvP, shot a horrible percentage on the field, despite attacking the rim consistently. Their defense is great, but where are they going to find offense when even Rose cannot carry much of a load? Carlos Boozer? Luol Deng? Not enough to win a championship. Boston? No center (their biggest advantage when they won the championship). Orlando? Sure, if Dwight Howard can play every position and doesn't need shotjackers to make their shots. Yeah, not going to happen. New York? Na, don't we all agree that DEFENSE wins championships? That leaves us with the Heat as the only true contender in the East. Portland has proven that they can defeat the Heat. Being a team that's somewhat like the Mavs and spreads the floor and uses their options in scoring, the Blazers would have great chances in winning a championship. So, let's assume Miami repeats and is in the Finals next season, which at this point I'm already locking them in there.
Now let's look at the West. As I said, the Lakers and Spurs are done. Age has caught up to them. The Lakers are undergoing coaching changes. They have an overrated bench that was near useless. Pau Gasol probably belongs on the Mavericks to fit in with the softies. Kobe is obviously fading. Fisher has become the fish, and is being eaten alive with a nice lemon by his age. Spurs are in the same book. If they cannot get past the Memphis Grizzlies, and needed a miracle shot to force OT in game 5, it's hard to take them seriously. Not to mention, their age is catching up to them. Their 4 and 5 positions look like old men, because they now are.
How about OKC. Excuse me, I mean ChokeKC. Seeing Tyson Chandler, a mediocre center, abuse Kendrick Perkins made me giggle like a school girl during that series. It became clear that if you cut off the head the snake will die. The Thunder rely too much on Kevin Durant. If Portland is ever to stop Westbrook, they could do a clean sweep on the Choklahoma City Thunder. However, these guys could go far if the refs keep helping KD in his quest for the key to the NBA playboy mansion. But, their latest playoff run had them going against a starless, defenseless Denver team, missing their best player for over half the series, and an inexperienced Grizzlies team. Every team would LOVE to have that as their first 2 rounds. Then, when they got to Dallas... they got mauled and thunderstruck. I've been defending Portland for years when OKC is compared to them. Portland is the better team, and will be further along the road. KD and Westbrook don't have what it takes to play nor learn good defense. I'd count them out about now.
So, how about the Mavs? The winner of it all? Well, excuse me for noticing, but Dirk looked like a fish outta water in the entire playoffs. Constantly traveling, constantly flopping. All in all, if Portland had any inside threat besides LaMarcus, or any consistency from Wallace, Batum, and Mathews, they'd have won that series. Had they not lost game 1 (thanks for a 19-2 FT discrepancy in which Dallas got about 80% of their points in that 4th quarter from the FT line), I believe Portland would have won that game. We made them look beatable when we played well under our talents. So, Portland could beat them.
All in all, I could sit here for even more hours writing about how Portland's chances are now. The gate is wide open. The Championship is beckoning. No more closing the door. The time is NOW.