By Kevin C.
The Portland Trailblazers, during most years, could be labeled the Portland Afterthoughts. A band of solid, yet unremarkable players, and a team doomed for the 8-13th pick in the NBA Draft. Their two stars – Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are the type of players that stuff the nightly stat sheet, but rarely drum up a YouTube worthy alley-oop combos. They play in the Pacific Time Zone, and any publicity reserved for after-hours hoops junkies typically befalls the Lakers, Clippers, and Warriors. But two weeks into the season, the Trailblazers are second in the Western Conference standings! Trailing only the San Antonio Spurs, the Blazers represent the only loss on the Spurs 2013 resume. It’s easy to disregard the Blazers in the early goings, perhaps crediting their success to mediocre competition. However, as of November 16th, their seven wins have come against teams with a combined record of 26-25. By no means have they played elite competition, but it’s not as if they’ve alternated games between the Utah Jazz and Charlotte Bobcats. This team is viable, and it’s about time they got some dap.
Defensively, they are 12th in the league in Points Allowed Per Game (98.9). Offensively, they’re 10th in the league (102.4), and their +3.5 point differential is good for 8th in the league. If this were Numbers Never Lie with Michael Smith and Jemele Hill, they’d posit that the Blazers overall record is a correct reflection of their statistical standings. If we showed the same figured to Hugh Douglas he’d say it means that he should get drunk and punch Michael Smith in the face. Numbers mean different things to different people.
Either way, it looks like Portland might be the current NBA equivalent to the Kansas City Chiefs. An average team, with little media-driven support, proving the prognosticators wrong. DMX once said “Fuck what you heard, it’s what you’re hearing.” In a sense, this lyric lends credence to the notion that the Trailblazers are a legitimate playoff contender. But you wouldn’t know about that because you’re too busy listening to what you heard. The first couple weeks of the the season have shown us that the Blazers might have a few tricks up their sleeves.
First, they’ll whoop your ass if you’re a bottom-feeding team and then take you out for a vegan dinner afterwards. For instance, their next three opponents are the Raptors, Nets, and Bucks. They’re all away games, but the Blazers play with a nightly focus regardless of their opponent – rarely lowering their level of play. In the sports business, we call that consistency. If potential is a rock star who is one hit away from going big, then consistency is getting a job with the federal government that covers medical and pays out a decent pension. Sometimes a shitty job with the government is the way to go, especially if it gets you into the NBA playoffs (metaphorically speaking). I have little doubt they walk away from that three game set at 3-0 or 2-1. The Blazers are taking care of business like Office Depot when it comes to the bottom feeders.
Second, they have a talented supporting cast. Mo Williams was once an All-Star holding onto LeBron’s coattails for dear life. He can come off the bench in place of Damian Lillard, and spark runs in the process while Lillard gets some Zzzz’s on the bench. Dorrell Wright can shoot from range, and Robin Lopez and his Sideshow Bob hair serves his purpose as a decent Center. He won’t own the paint, but provided he plays a little defense, and allows LaMarcus Aldridge to work his inside game, he becomes a valuable commodity. This cohesive unit will also be boosted by the return of C.J. McCollum, their first round draft choice. Imagine the threat they can become once he returns if Coach Stotts can figure out how to effectively insert him into the rotation.
Third, there is an inherent advantage to playing in Portland. Similar to how teams struggle playing in the Denver altitude. Portland can be a hazy, depressing landscape during the Winter months. Clouds of gray cover the sky, and no combination of drugs and coffee can remove you from a place that looks like a scene taken from The Crow. Portlandians are impressively accustomed to the Vitamin-D deficient world they live in. They’ve embarked on a series of countermeasures to mitigate the weather’s effects. They cross-blend food genres, take delight in wearing silly clothes, and figured out how to draw a picture of two dinosaurs making love with cappuccino froth. It’s impressive shit. Teams traveling to Portland have no such outlets. They stay cooped up in their hotel rooms, struggling for sleep as they watch the clock tick. As a result, they play their games in a disoriented daze while the Blazers run them up and down the court. People speak of a home court advantage, but Portland has the best built-in weather advantage for a sport that shouldn’t have one. The Blazers will make the playoffs in 2014, where the dream of the 90’s lives on.