The Blazers meet the Thunder on January 3rd in OKC, one of the month's biggest games. Photo courtesy of the Columbian.

Are You Ready For January?

Happy New Year, and welcome to 2012. If you subscribe to Starz you could watch 2012 all day long. If you’re in the finals of your Fantasy Football league, good luck, I hope you don’t have Aaron Rodgers. What I’m going to do to kick off the first month of this year—which as we all know might be the last one ever—is take a look forward at the month of January as it pertains to the Blazers.

Remember, this is really the season’s first month. A few teams got in five games in December; Portland had only three. As Jamal Crawford told me following Thursday’s win, now we all know the importance of pre-season. Nobody’s looked great, not even the Blazers, that will start to change in January.

So enjoy some Sunday football, and here’s my January preview:

What Happened in December: The Blazers finish 3-0, holding home court the whole way. The team looks good, but not without a few issues, 25 turnovers, and those that tend to get overly excited too early have started to predict Portland has Conference Finals potential (I’m talking about myself).

Number of Games in January: 18

Game Breakdown: 1/1 at LA Clippers, 1/3 at Oklahoma City, 1/5 vs. LA Lakers, 1/6 at Phoenix, 1/8 vs. Cleveland, 1/10 vs. LA Clippers, 1/11 vs. Orlando, 1/13 at San Antonio, 1/14 at Houston, 1/16 at New Orleans, 1/18 at Atlanta, 1/20 at Toronto, 1/21 at Detroit, 1/23 vs. Sacramento, 1/24 vs. Memphis, 1/25 at Golden State, 1/27 vs. Phoenix, 1/30 at Utah.

Games to Watch: There are going to be plenty of big games in January. Instead of singling out one or two as specific games to watch, I going to suggest we all pay close attention to the road games. In January Portland plays at the RG only seven times. The bulk of the team’s road engagements come from a brutal six-nighter that includes back-to-backs in San Antonio and Houston and Toronto and Detroit, and a stopover in Atlanta. Toronto and Detroit should be easy wins, but they come at the end of the trip. New Orleans also might prove problematic. Coming after the tough Texas games—Portland can beat both San Antonio and Houston but historically has had very little success in those gyms—the Hornets aren’t a great team, but they have the tools to beat a team that makes the mistake of taking them for granted. Another big road game is the penultimate away game of the month taking place in Oakland. The Blazers very rarely be the Warriors, regardless of how bad that team is, and almost never win at Oracle Arena. Add to it that this will be the final night of Portland’s first of two back-to-back-to-back, and this one could be interesting.

To reach their potential (Conference Finals) the Blazers will have to get wins on the road. They haven’t won on the road yet this season—they haven’t played a regular season away game but they did lose the Utah half of their home-and-home preseason—and they better start winning outside of Portland in a hurry. There are six very very winnable road games this month (Utah, Golden State, Detroit, Toronto, New Orleans, and Phoenix). That should be the baseline. Less than six road wins is under performing. Getting one in Texas, beating the Hawks in ATL, and not losing to both the Clippers and the Thunder will be a successful road campaign for the Blazers in January.

Game of the Month: Like I said, a lot of great games this month: two meetings with the high flying Clippers, the Lakers at home, Dwight Howard as long as he stays with the Magic through the middle of the month. My pick for game of the month will happen two days from today. On January 3rd, the Blazers roll into Oklahoma City to take on the Thunder. OKC has yet to lose in five games, and will be Portland’s chief division rival all season. The Thunder have Kevin Durant, obviously, and are the favorite pick to represent the West in the Finals. I’m not sure that I disagree with that, but I do think it’s a beatable team, having to pull a Brandon Roy to beat a hapless Mavericks team is an example of this team’s mortality. Beating Oklahoma City on their turf on the second game-night of a really tough month could set the stage for a great run for Portland. Losing, especially if they get blown out, could have the exact opposite effect.

Prediction: 11-7. I almost feel like this is a conservative estimate. But then again it could very easily be overly generous. The 11 games that I picked are a two-game sweep of Phoenix, a win at Utah, a win at Golden State, another home victory over Jimmer and the Kings, victories at Toronto, Detroit, and New Orleans, a split with the Clips, a woodshedding of Cleveland, and a win in the RG against the Lakers. That also means I’m predicting losses at home to Memphis and Orlando, losses on the road to Atlanta, Houston, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City, and a loss in Portland or LA to Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Portland could very easily win a couple of those games that I’ve predicted they are going to lose. The high end of wins in January could possibly be 15. They could also lose a lot more.

What it All Means: It’s for real now. After three games, Portland is one of a trio of teams that are unbeaten; the other two are Miami (4-0) and Oklahoma City (5-0). More than one super pundit has that as their NBA Finals matchup. The Blazers are for real; just how for real they are will be determined in the months to come. Those months begin with this month.

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Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject

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