Riding the 20 Game Roller Coaster
After 20 games in this condensed schedule, the Portland Trail Blazers now sit at the record of 12-8. It's a winning record, with 60% of the games won, but is it a great record that this team should be sitting at? To me, it isn't. We should be better. But, will give the Blazers some credit for winning games that are impressive victories. The Blazers still remain the only team to have beaten the Oklahoma City Thunder in their own building. Speaking of which, we've only lost one game in our own arena, a game we almost came back to win. The team is doing well, and looking as good as they should be. But, one problem still remains. Consistency.
The season started off on a hot streak. The Blazers win their first three games, all at home. One against a competitor in the East, and another is sitting comfortably as the second seed in the Western Conference. The other is, well, Sacramento. After that, the Blazers had a few days off, a new year kicked in, and down they fly to Los Angelos to play on the new look Clippers. The game looked ugly and terrible. The Clippers almost always led and the Blazers looked beat up and tired. Some call this a hangover game, because recent success and a holiday is tough to come back on, supposedly. Eventually, after CP3 hitting a miracle shot and miraculously calling a timeout while sitting out of bounds, the Clippers would hold on, and hand the Blazers their first defeat of the season in a 88-93 loss. Maybe this was the wake up game. The game that sent us all back to reality.
Two days after the lackluster play of the Blazers in LA, they fly to Oklahoma City to take on Kevin Durant and the Thunder. It doesn't take a Blazer fanatic to know we have some beef with the Thunder. Not only did they get the better side of the 2007 pick with Durant over Oden, they also are almost always compared to the Blazers, since both teams were growing up around the same time, and of course, the Oden vs Durant that never really happened. Portland struggled to finish against this Thunder team last season, going 1-3 against them with nearly every game (except the one the Blazers won) coming down to the final possession. This was always a tough matchup. And, with the Thunder getting so much praise, being called the best team in the league, Portland needed it. After a close game, the Blazers started to pull away. They hit their free-throws, and became the first (and so far only) team to beat the Thunder in their own building. It was an impressive win that quickly erased the burden of losing to the Clippers, a burden that could return.
They then return home and beat the next powerhouse in the West, the hated Lakers. Once again, as almost always in the Rose Garden, the Blazers come out victorious.
But then we head down to Phoenix. After looking so great against the Lakers, they looked so bad against the Suns. The Suns needed a win, and got one, convincingly. They destroyed the Blazers. And again, a reality check hits us. But, don't ever embarrass who can easily embarrass you, as we'll eventually find out.
The Blazers come back home, take care of Cleveland, beat the Clippers, and then take on the Magic the next night. I don't think the Blazers realized just how important this game was. The Magic struck early. They hit everything they wanted. The Blazers didn't. They soon fell behind by 20+ points and couldn't ever regain control. They came close to winning, but eventually fell, and lost their first home game of the season. The last game at home before a brutal 6 game road trip. . .
. . . And brutal it was. Things looked decent throughout the first half against San Antonio, but the Marcus Camby sprained an ankle, the Blazers sprained their record while losing game number four. Then off to Houston the next night, with no Marcus Camby. The Rockets played well, and the Blazers decided it wasn't the door they wanted to take. Thought about it, and forced an overtime, but eventually fell in OT. A missed opportunity in which could have been a good win. The Blazers then catch a break going against the worst team in the West, and win on MLK day. It just had that sense of, "about time". Maybe that would be the game that jump starts the Blazers, since we saw a new LaMarcus Aldridge after halftime. Sadly, it wasn't. On Jamal Crawford's return to Atlanta, it was another opportunity missed. A team playing well, leaving the door wide open, and the Blazers slamming it shut. They had a chance, but didn't take it. Luckily, they then go against another bad team, and LaMarcus pulls out the best game of his career with a 33-23 game. Maybe that will get them going, as they head into Detroit to take on one of the worst teams in the East. Nope, not going to happen. Another opportunity missed. Another door wide open and slammed shut by the Blazers.
Having a game at the Rose Garden needed to be a cure, and it was. Sacramento isn't going to be winning in Portland this year. The Blazers then once again follow it up with a fantastic win at home, against a team they could eventually see in the playoffs. But then, after being brought back to reality twice by the Blazers, it was time for me to be realistic. I predicted the Blazers missing another opportunity against Golden State, and they did. The house of horrors continues at Oracle. Another opportunity lost. But, at least the Blazers did eclipse (and I mean, ECLIPSE) the Suns on Friday night.
So, after the recap, does it appear we should be happy? The best team we've lost to is arguably the Magic. The worst team we've lost to is arguably Detroit. The best team we've beat is the Thunder, and the worst is the Hornets. So it really is a 20 game roller coaster. It has its up, it has its down, it has its thrills and it has it scary moments. But the one thing that concerns me the most, is if this roller coaster is going to keep on going the way it is, or if it's going to reach it's potential to be the best ride ever.
The Blazers need to ask themselves, to get prepared for these next 46 games, if they want to win it all. Because in the end, it's going to take more effort. Every team and player has their slumps and tough moments, but with how easy it was for me to call the Golden State game a loss, and be proven right, it concerns me. The Blazers are just too notorious in their first 20 games. Some of their games you can just tell are over at halftime because they aren't at that point where they can just flip the switch mid-game. The Blazers need to do that. LaMarcus needs to be able to do that.
So, accessing the first 20 games? I give the Blazers a C+ to B-
They've got the team, and they've proven that they can compete with the best. But there is never an excuse for coming out and playing the way they did in some of their loses. Every game counts, and at this point, I feel the Blazers should be ranked higher in the seeding, and should be, but they let some games go.
For the Blazers to win a playoff series, they need to get their act together. Their effort level is becoming too notorious. Look at Game 2 and Game 5 of last season's playoff series against the Mavs. Not enough energy, and the Blazers coming out looking tired. They looked the same way in at least 6 of their loses. If they had won those 6 games when the opportunity was surely there, the Blazers would be sitting at 18-2, and the best record in the league. And these opportunities in this schedule are not going to come back. You have to win these games.
The 20 game roller coaster was a fun ride, an emotional ride. But, we need to hope it's done, and it's time to jump on a thrilling 46 game roller coaster that only goes up.