We’re one month down into this new year, and we’ve now had a chance to get a better look at this Blazer team. Twenty-one games in by January means that Portland’s first February game will close out the season’s opening third.
The league is still pretty open although both conferences have seen teams rise to the top and stay there. The good is that the Blazers have made it through the first full month of basketball without falling to the very basement of the league with teams like the Sacramento Kings or Washington Wizards. The bad is that Portland is, at this moment, in a tight race for the final Western Conference Playoff seed.
This Blazer team should be better than that. February will be the month to either prove or disprove that theory. Missing Nicolas Batum for two games or more isn’t going to help. It’s not panic time, not even close, but it is time for Portland to make the adjustments needed to take their rightful place among the top—or at least middle—of the Western Playoff picture.
So with no further ado, here’s my February preview:
What Happened in January: About what you’d expect from a 9-9 month. Finishing .500 for the month basically means that every big win was counteracted by a big loss. Portland’s three biggest wins—in order from big to bigger to biggest—came January 5th at home against the Lakers, January at home against the Clippers, and January 3rd on the road against the Thunder. The Blazers’ worst losses—in the same order—were January 11th at home against Orlando, January 6th at Phoenix to the Suns, and January 21st in Detroit to the Pistons. There are a lot of road losses to choose from for that little list. I went with the losses to the Pistons and the Suns because those are bad teams Portland should have very easily beaten. Losing to Atlanta, Golden State, Utah, Houston, and San Antonio are all bad losses, but we might be able to stand a few of them a little more if the Blazers had beaten the worst teams they played. The good thing is, even though Portland couldn’t really break through on the road they only got totally demolished the one time in Phoenix, another reason that game makes the list of bad beats and the Blazers’ recent loss to Utah doesn’t. They’re hanging in on the road. February will be about getting over the hump…or not.
Number of Games in February: 14
Game Breakdown: 2/1 vs. Charlotte, 2/2 at Sacramento, 2/4 vs. Denver, 2/6 vs. Oklahoma City, 2/8 vs. Houston, 2/10 at New Orleans, 2/11 vs. Dallas, 2/14 vs. Washington, 2/15 at Golden State, 2/16 vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 2/18 vs. Atlanta, 2/20 at Los Angeles Lakers, 2/21 vs. San Antonio, 2/29 at Denver
Games to Watch: Again, yet another month with plenty of chances for Portland to beat good teams and lose to bad teams, or the other way around, or maybe, just maybe, beat both the bad teams AND the good teams. That would be quite an achievement. The games to watch are primarily going to be road games, mostly because there are only six of them. The Blazers are 3-8 on the road (all of those games were in January in case you forgot that Portland opened with three straight home games), and right now everything they should be talking about and working on is how to win games away from home.
There are going to be a couple of easy roadies, at Sacramento on the 2nd and at New Orleans on the 10th, which the Blazers absolutely cannot lose, and a couple that Portland should be in enough to feel bad if the lose, namely the 11th in Dallas and the 20th against the Lake-Show in LA. My pick for road game to watch in February has to be the last one though. The Blazers roll into the Mile-High City to face Denver following a seven-day layoff for the All-Star Game. Denver has emerged as one of the leaders in the conference, and Portland gets them two more times this month. The Blazers beat the Nuggets at home in January, but Denver is another place Portland struggles to win. My suggestion is that the Blazers that don’t make the All-Star team, so everybody but LaMarcus, spend their whole break in Denver getting used to the altitude.
The home games to watch are going to be the ones that Portland shouldn’t lose. They start the month against Charlotte, which should be a blowout, then play Houston, Washington, and San Antonio before the break. All of those are games the Blazers should win.
Game(s) of the Month: I can’t pick just one because this month is about Portland making the transition from middling to actual contender. That means this month the Blazers will have to build on the things they did well in January and improve on the things they did not so well. With that in mind, my games of the month are the home game on the 6th against the Thunder, and the road game on the 15th at Golden State. Every time Portland plays Oklahoma City it’s the game of the month. OKC is the best team in the West, and has the potential to be the best team in the Association. The Blazers are the only team that has won a game in Oklahoma, and the Thunder are going to be looking for revenge. Portland needs to play the exact same way they played January 3rd, and if they do they should have a very good chance of taking a 2-0 lead in that season series. As for Oakland. We all know that story. Portland gets the Warriors in the middle of their second b3b—the night after playing the Wizards and the night before hosting the Clips—and they can do themselves a big favor by stepping up at ORACLE.
Prediction: 11-3. This is a pretty generous prediction, but I think Portland has to get a lot better in February or its curtains. Also, the schedule is rather favorable. No long road trip only one road back-to-back, games against good teams buffered by games against bad teams. So, the Blazers start the month beating Charlotte by a lot, Sacramento in SacTown, Denver, OKC, and Houston at home, and New Orleans in the Big Easy. They get their first loss in Dallas, then avenge that loss by annihilating the Wizards. The Oakland curse continues like we all know it will but is made up for by beating the Clippers again. Portland finishes the month 3-1, the lone loss coming at Staples against the Lakers. The Blazers could very easily lose a couple of those home games, but if there’s one thing we know for sure, winning at home is that much more important until the road game gets figured out. This is back-to-back 11 win predictions for me. Last month I was off by two. To be honest, I would take a 9-5 month, and that might be more realistic. But if every Blazer fan has one thing in common, it’s the inability to be rational about their club.
What it All Means: January was real, so that makes February really real. I know my 11-3 prediction is a little outlandish, but here’s the thing, Portland is better than eighth in the West. They need to make up for an ultimately disappointing month of January and they need to do it fast. If the Blazers go 7-7, or worse, in February it’s not all over, but it’s much closer to over than anybody would like it to be. After February there are only two months of ball left. The Blazers are going to have to fight down the stretch just like everybody else, but fighting for home court in the Playoffs is much better than fighting just to be included. Getting a whole mess of wins if February will put Portland in position to do the former, losing as many as they win won’t
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