The play of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard will go a long way to dictate whether or not December is a good month for the Blazers. Credit: Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE

Are We Going To Get A December To Remember?

Terry Stotts has had a rough first full month as head coach of the Trail Blazers. Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

How’s everybody doing? Still hanging in there? Good. This is going to be a long season. If we didn’t know that coming into November, it’s been made abundantly clear by this first day of December.

We’ve seen some good and some bad. Right now we’re in the depths of the bad. The good thing about that is that at some point it will get better. I mean it has to get better right? The Blazers finished November on the road, with five of their last seven games away from the Rose Garden.

Because of the miracle of NBA scheduling, Portland plats only five total road games in December. When the Blazers return home from this current slog they’re on, they will have only two games away from home for the rest of the month. Both of those games are one-night California bounces. If Portland is going to get right in December, they’ll do it at home.

If anything has been solidified after one month of regular season games it’s that the Blazers are much better playing at home. They play looser, they make better decisions, and most importantly, they win (twice as many home wins this season as road wins and an above .500 home record).

Taking this season one game at a time, and trying not to look to far into the future, the simple fact that Portland plays at home eight times and on the road only five times in December should give fans just a slight glimmer of hope.

So here we go:

What Happened in November: Following an undefeated October (1-0), Portland just misses my prediction (9-6) for November and finishes the month 5-10. OK they missed my prediction by a wide margin. The four straight losses on the first half of the month-ending road trip didn’t help.

I predicted Portland would beat Atlanta and either the Clippers or the Spurs at home and they didn’t. I also predicted they’d beat the Suns in Phoenix, and again they didn’t. Losses to Detroit and Washington round out the four games I predicted incorrectly.

November wasn’t all terrible. The Blazers beat Houston twice, both in over time. They turned a three-game home losing streak into a home winning streak. Damian Lillard showed that he’s so good that every team in the league is keying in on him defensively. J.J. Hickson has somehow become a good rebounder and a double-double machine. Meyers Leonard proved that he might have actually been worth that number 11 pick.

The bad in the Portland’s first full month greatly out-paced the good though. The Blazers can’t score inside, they can’t play defense, their bench is miserably overmatched. There are a lot of things to work on going forward. Hopefully some of the play in November has made those things clear to the coaching staff, and they can begin addressing them in December.

If November ends up being the worst month of Portland’s season then it was worth it.

Number of Games in December: 13

Game Breakdown: 12/1 at Cleveland, 12/3 at Charlotte, 12/5 at Indiana, 12/8 vs. Sacramento, 12/10 vs. Toronto, 12/13 vs. San Antonio, 12/16 vs. New Orleans, 12/20 vs. Denver, 12/22 vs. Phoenix, 12/23 at Sacramento, 12/26 vs. Sacramento, 12/28 at Los Angeles Lakers, 12/29 vs. Philadelphia

Games to Watch: December is full of good games, partially because it’s full of both home games and winnable games. Before we get to those home games, though, the Blazers have to finish this road trip.

The last three games of this trip are as important as any other game this month. The prospect of a winning road trip is off the table following Portland’s loss on Friday in Boston, but a 3-4 finish following an 0-4 start would feel like a winning trip. To get even close to those three wins, the Blazers first have to get one win. Saturday the first in Cleveland against a 4-12 Cavaliers team that is missing their best player, could very well be the most important game of the month.

Once the trip is over, though, December will start to get really interesting. Portland hosts a number of bad teams (Toronto, New Orleans, Phoenix, and Sacramento twice), two decent teams (Denver and Philadelphia), and one good team (San Antonio).

I don’t doubt Portlanders will show up for games in December, you know with the weather being crappy and there really being nothing else to do and stuff, but if the Blazers play at home like they have so far on the road and don’t take care of business against inferior opponents, we could be watching games in an empty gym come New Years.

The games to watch are all those against teams Portland should beat. December is full of them, so that’s good.

Anthony Davis makes his first stop in Portland in December, if he’s healthy, to take on his chief competition for Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard. Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Game of the Month: November’s was a no-brainer prior to the start of the month. Unfortunately, when it came time for Portland to actually play the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Rose Garden, Brandon Roy was not part of the festivities.

Still, given the way November shook out, I will say that I was right to pick Portland’s 103-95 victory on November 23rd over the Timberwolves as the best win of the month.

December doesn’t really have the same marquee-type match-up as the Brandon Roy Comeback That Wasn’t, but there are still plenty of big games that could qualify as the best of the month. Beating San Antonio at home would be huge (especially if Gregg Popovich rests his starters and everybody has a good long cry about it). Phoenix is a revenge game. The Blazers play the Kings three times. Those are all important games.

That being said, my game of the month will be December 16th when the New Orleans Hornets make their first stop in the Rose Garden. Why NOLA? I know they’re a bad team (4-10 at the time of this writing and one of two teams in the west behind Portland), but they’re also the team that has Damian Lillard’s chief rival for rookie of the year on their roster.

Anthony Davis, the number one overall pick, is currently averaging 16 points, eight rebounds, two blocks, and a steal through the first six games of his career. The downside is, his team has played 14 games. Davis has missed time this season with a head injury and is now been sidelined for seven straight games with a stress reaction in a joint in his left ankle. The hope is that Davis will return once rested. Hopefully he’ll be rested by the 16th and he can go head-to-head, not really since Davis is a forward and Dame is a point guard, with the guy who is likely going to snatch the highest rookie honor from him.

If Davis isn’t back by the 16th, then once again I picked a lemon for game of the month. Should that happen, my B selection for game of the month is Wednesday December 28th at home against the Kings. Could be a game for Portland to sweep the series, could be the rubber match in the three-game December swing against the Kings. Could be a game to avoid a 1-3 season series with Sac should Portland drop both of their next two meetings with the Kings. It’s the Portland half of a home-and-home, and regardless of previous outcomes it should be a fun one.

Prediction: 8-5. I went way over on my win prediction for November, and seeing the way the Blazers have played recently I know that eight wins seem like a lot. But looking at what’s on tap, eight wins not only seems reasonable, it also feels maybe a little low. Of course you know that means Portland is likely to go 0-13, and that I’m one of those ridiculous Blazer fans who thinks this stretch of losses is mostly bad luck and that given more time Joel Freeland could be an All-Star.

Either way, here’s how I see it going down. Wins against Cleveland and Charlotte to make people feel a little bit better about losing to Detroit and Washington. A loss to Indiana that will remind everybody that in fact the long trip was totally miserable. A blowout win at home against the Kings to blow off some steam. Another big win against the Raptors, followed by a disappointing loss in the RG against the Spurs (regardless of who coach Pop suits up), followed by a win against NOLA, a loss to the Nuggets, and a revenge victory over the Suns to close a six-game home stand. The final week of 2012 closes out with back-to-back wins in Sacramento and at home against the Kings to finish the season sweep, then unfortunate back-to-back losses at Staples to the Lakers and at home to the 76ers.

What it All Means: Now isn’t that the question. December is only not a make-it or break-it month for this team because there isn’t a whole lot to make or break with this team. That doesn’t mean that this month isn’t an important one. Portland limps into December beaten and a bit in shambles. The silver lining in all this is that expectations shouldn’t be too high. There will be no firing of coaches, no burning down of the roster at the deadline, no tanking for draft position. Every month will be about learning new things and building for a future in which this Blazer team is not an underdog every night. If Portland can get a couple of wins this month, regardless of who they are against, they might be able to restore a little of the confidence this team needs to have a meaningful and productive season. If they don’t get those wins, and if they push a losing streak into double digits, that will be bad, but that doesn’t mean the season is a wash. The season was mostly a wash to begin with.

@mikeacker | @ripcityproject | [email protected]

The Blazers will have more wins in December than they did in November

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