The day has come. The NBA schedule was released today, which means that those last few fans who were holding their collective breath anticipating that somehow at the last second the season would vaporize in much the same way it seemed to materialize not two weeks ago can go ahead and exhale. The calendars have been aligned, the flights and hotel rooms have been booked, the season ticket sales have begun.
We knew we were going to have a season when the tentative agreement was reached, and we knew when it was going to start only a short time later. Now we know who Portland gets to play. Joe Freeman of the Oregonian and Ben at Blazersedge have very nice breakdowns (here and here respectively), so I won’t get in to that here.
Since I’m coming in a little late to the party this evening I thought I’d pick out a couple of games to look at specifically. These aren’t likely to be the most important games of the upcoming season, but they’re ones that I think might be worth keeping an eye on, and if you’re the type to do so, maybe marking your calendar for.
I’ll skip opening day, since that’s a game I’m sure no Blazer fan is going to miss. So, following that single omission, here are the games I think you should be on the look-out for:
Thursday December 29th versus the Denver Nuggets at the Rose Garden
On December 29th Portland hosts its third regular season game, and its first division game against the Denver Nuggets. At this point in the season these contests will probably play like trumped-up preseason games, but this one will matter. With a shortened season and a tough conference, Portland can’t afford to fall behind early in the standings.
What am I saying, this game is important to me (and lots of fans like me) for one reason. Andre Miller. Blazer fans won’t have to wait long for Dre to make his Rose Garden homecoming. I understood trading Dre for Raymond Felton, and I’m still not convinced it was the wrong move (about three fourths of the way through this you can see what I said about it at the time it happened), but that doesn’t change the fact that seeing Andre go was a little hard to take. I love the way he plays, I love his fight and intensity, and above all else he was a fascinating guy just to watch off the court.
I imagine Andre will get a big ovation from the fans, maybe not at the Przybilla or Brandon Roy in the Playoffs level but from how it seemed to me Dre was pretty well liked by fans. Portland had trouble playing Andre when he ran the Sixers back court. It will be interesting to see how Felton plays him straight up considering that he too will be playing against his old team for the first time. I’m sure that the rest of the guys will tell him to stay close when Dre dribbles slowly up the court to call timeout.
Thursday January 5th versus the Los Angeles Lakers at the Rose Garden
I know these first two games are very close to each other, and you’re probably thinking that I’m going to say every Western Conference home game is going to be one to watch. Although that’s true, I picked this game as one to watch for two specific reasons.
Reason number one: January 5th will be the only time the Lakers play in Portland. Fewer games mean Portland only has the Lakers three times in 2011-12, and since the league doesn’t want Kobe to spend too many nights away from the comfort of his own home that means the have to Blazers travel. Getting the Lakers at home only the one time is a double edged sword. On the upside there will only be one time this season when the Rose Garden can be expected to be half full of purple and gold. On the downside the Blazers always give LA a game at home and always get run out of the Staples Center (except for the one time they won like two seasons ago).
Reason number two: It’s a TNT game. Those of you up on your B Roy lore know he really brings it for TNT games. Almost every big moment in his career has been on TNT. By January 5th I imagine we’ll have a pretty good sense of whether or not Brandon is going to be able to play. If he’s struggling maybe his first TNT game is a breakout. If he’s doing well? Then I think the Lakers are in trouble.
Saturday February 11th versus the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center
We all know that last season Portland needed a win in Dallas to get out of the first round of the Playoffs. Sure the Mavs were tough to beat at home for everyone, but Portland came close at least once. Saturday February 11th will be Portland’s first chance at a little redemption.
Dallas is going to be an interesting story all year. They’ve been a perennial contender, and one of the teams everybody wants to beat, but they’ve never been the champs. What that means for them remains to be seen. I don’t imagine that guys like Dirk, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, and Shawn Marion are going to stop being fierce competitors just because after all their years in the league they finally won it all. But, having said that, there’s a chance a little of the fight might been drained out of them. And given the short intervals between games and the overall age of the roster, this could be a big chance for Portland to get a statement win on the road.
The next step for the Blazers is to win against bad teams on the road every time, and show they can hang with and beat some of the league’s top dogs on their turf. February 5th will be a good measure of where Portland’s season might end up in 11-12.
Thursday March 1st versus the Miami Heat at the Rose Garden
The Blazers don’t get to host the Celtics, the Bulls, or the Knicks (not to mention the Raptors, the Pacers, and the Pistons). The flip side of that is that they won’t have to travel to Orlando, Cleveland, Charlotte, New Jersey, or Miami. Yes, that means we can erase a couple of sure wins, but it also means that PORTLAND DOESN’T HAVE TO PLAY THE HEAT ON THE ROAD.
March 1st will be Portland’s only match-up against Lebron James and the rest of the guys on his team (I think I might boycott the use of the term Big Three). That’s good for Portland, especially if come March 2012 the Blazers are struggling with injuries and the toughness of the schedule.
Sunday March 18th versus the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Chesapeake Energy Arena
Looking at the schedule, I’m starting to think that March is going to be the make-it or break-it month for most teams, definitely for the Blazers.
December doesn’t count, early January will be about players getting used to playing NBA basketball again, late January and into early February will be played on pure momentum, but late February and into March legs are going to get heavy, and four games in five nights and back-to-back-to-backs are going to be absolute hell this deep into it. Players are going to be tired.
Late March will be the part of the season where everything starts to shake out, and it can be a time for a team to make a move against some of their more road weary counterparts. March 18th, Portland visits their main division rivals for the third time, and unfortunately for the Blazers it comes at the end of an absolutely brutal seven-game road swing that includes stops in Boston, New York, and Chi-Town. Luckily for Portland it’s their final road trip of more than two games until they close the season on a three-gamer to Memphis, San Antonio, and Salt Lake City.
Expecting that the Blazers even make it to Oklahoma City in one piece, this will likely be a big game. Mostly because it will be fun to see if Portland can survive the six road games that precede it.
This was just a quick and dirty breakdown of a couple of games that jumped out at me on my first pass through the schedule. As the season unfolds, it will become obvious which games are going to be good ones to watch, which ones might be worth skipping for fainthearted fans who don’t wish to see the Blazers drag they’re worn out bodies up and down the court, and which games will be ugly but amazing in their own right.
This season is going to be weird. And it’s going to be over almost as soon as it starts. Do whatever you have to do now to prepare, because three games in a row, four in five days, and seven in ten days is going to be exhausting for fans too.
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