Blazing Ahead

6 01 2012

The 2011 Dallas Mavericks proved that sometimes a championship requires just a few pieces being added to a core group of players. The Blazers might have solved their puzzle.

The Portland Trail Blazers went into last night’s TNT game with the best record in the Western Conference, and they left the night with the best record. They took down the Los Angeles Lakers, 107-96, and now sit at 5-1 on the year. During their victory over the Lakers, they looked to be a legitimately contending squad.

Out of all the entire league, I haven’t seen a team yet with this much chemistry so early in the season. They proved their cohesiveness in their victory with only four turnovers the entire game. Sharing the ball happens easily and bad shot selection rarely occurs. Felton and Matthews pushed the tempo the entire game without forcing the issue.

LeMarcus Aldridge had a breakout year last season, averaging 21.8 ppg and 8.7 rpg. Many considered him snubbed by not being selected as an all-star. By bringing 28 points and 10 rebounds to the table against the Lakers, he showed the country one good season isn’t enough. The ability to have a 6-11 big man that can also shoot the ball from mid-range creates a very versatile lineup where the floor can be spread quite well. When Aldridge has Marcus Camby to join him in the frontcourt, they automatically become one of the longest starting tandems in the league.

Could this be the year the Blazers finally win a playoff series?

Gerald Wallace and Jamal Crawford are two of the newest pieces to this young Blazers squad and they have messed perfectly.

Wallace plays at one speed the entire game – hints the nickname “crash” since he always goes hard no matter the situation. J.J. Barea gave the Mavericks this exact feature night in and night out during their championship run. To put up numbers like he did last night – 31 points on 13-19 shooting – brings Portland a whole new type of toughness along with efficient scoring. On the other side of the court, standing at 6-7, Wallace is the epitome of a swingman: he can play and guard anyone from the 2 to the 4. His nonstop energy translates to the defensive end, and this quality for a ballclub plays an essential role for any team aspiring to go the distance.

The only downside to Wallace relates to his inability to create his own shot. He is more of a slasher that constantly moves without the ball. Well, Jamal Crawford easily picks up the slack. Having multiple 50 point performances in his career, Crawford knows how to put the ball in the basket. He doesn’t need any picks or screens to make a shot; simply give him the ball and he’ll create something out of nothing. How else would he have won Sixth Man of the Year in 2009-2010 with the Atlanta Hawks? He will shoot the ball a little more than desired and take a few forced jumpers but he provides more positives than negatives. If you look at the most recent NBA Champions – the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks – they both had Sixth Man of the Year winners coming off their respective bench (Lamar Odom and Jason Terry). The spark the 11-year veteran provides off the bench (17 points in 23 minutes against the Lakers) helps pump the team up if the starting squad is struggling or continue the flow established by the starters. I see this quiet off-season signing as one of the top pick-ups.

Having all the right pieces doesn’t directly translate to a championship – just look at the Lakers when they had Bryant, O’Neal, and Malone or how the Heat currently have Wade, James, and Bosh. Attitude plays an important role, and the entire team has to be on the same page. Based off what Crawford said last night during his TNT sit-down interview, the Blazers are on the right track. He discussed the team’s understanding that anybody and everybody can step up to the occasion and take on the role the team needs to them to play on any given night. Other than LeMarcus Aldridge – who they expect to get his points every night – it could be anybody else’s night. The ability to trust one another and enjoy playing together doesn’t show up in the box score but is vital to succeed during a full NBA season.

What happens behind the scenes and on the sideline can’t be ignored either. Bringing a team together and getting them on the same mindset starts with the coach. Management will present a team to a coach and then he goes on to put those pieces together to the best of his ability. 6-year Portland Trail Blazers Head Coach Nate McMillan has done a tremendous job altering this squad’s approach to the game. When Brandon Roy (retired) and Andre Miller (traded) commanded this team the past few years, McMillan relied on both of their post games in his offense. It wasn’t a very exciting style of basketball as the flow could never really be established. With speedy Felton and Matthews becoming integral pieces of their guard play, he has turned a team that was 24th in scoring last year into the 4th highest scoring team in the league. They have fun on the court playing together and it spreads to the viewers.

Last but not least, the Trail Blazers have tremendous fans. Even though the Blazers haven’t won a playoff game since 2000 (a downside if you are thinking about jumping on their bandwagon), the Rose Garden has always been one of the noisiest arenas to play in. The fans remain loyal through the thick and thin and always provide their team with the support they need.

For Portland to finally live up to the hype they have had for so long will lie heavily on their frontcourt’s ability to stay healthy. The Blazers have a 37 and 39-year old center (Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas) and an injury-riddled power forward (LeMarcus Aldridge) that make up their core big men, and other than that, there is not much there. If any one these players goes down for a lengthy amount of time, McMillan will surely have to make adjustments to his gameplan.

So, do the Blazers have a legitimate chance to come out of nowhere this year with all the Thunder talk and actually contend to win the Wester Conference in a Mavericks-esque sort of way? Since the Blazers don’t play in the Eastern Conference where the Heat and Bulls look to have control of the conference, I can see them making a push. Los Angeles and Dallas have a lot of work to do before they can even think about the playoffs, while Oklahoma City doesn’t seem to have the kind of depth Portland has. If this squad can continue to play with energy, bring solid team defense to the court night in and night out, and finally have an injury-free season (one word: Greg Oden…), don’t be surprised if this team makes some noise when May rolls around.

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5 responses

17 02 2012
Rising and Falling, Manufacturing, Signing, Voting, Wishing « jay's jems

[…] I showed with a post early on, the Portland Trail Blazers seemed to finally have overcome all the constant injuries […]

6 01 2012
Charles D

If the blazers can somehow maximize Wallace’s potential, they could definitely be playoff contenders. BTW, loved watching them take down the ‘rebuilding’ Lakers.

6 01 2012
Chris

Wow, they do sound legitimate. I’ll have to keep an eye out for them as they season moves along!

6 01 2012
Casual_observer

Athletic team, match-up hell, legitimate all-stars in Wallace and Aldridge, deep, and no Roy slowing them down. Glad you can read espn

6 01 2012
jaysjems1141

I wrote this on my own after watching the game. If some of the main points matched up with ESPN, it was purely coincidental.

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