What kind of Blazer fan are you? I think I tipped my hand a little bit with my recap of Portland’s win over the Kings on Wednesday when I wrote about how I would react if I were a more cynical Blazer fan. I’m not exactly a cynical Blazer fan. I would say I’m a cautiously optimistic fan, equal emphasis on both caution and optimism.
When the Blazers tip off Saturday evening back at the Rose Garden against the Philadelphia 76ers they will be playing for a 9-4 December and the chance to maintain the eighth position in the Western Conference.
The cautious fan in me warns that Portland has yet to beat many high quality opponents (the Spurs, Lakers, and Bulls are it basically), still lacks for a consistent bench, and is facing down a very tough Western Conference and a January that could break them.
But the optimistic voice in my head is telling me that this Blazer team is way better than even I expected them to be, and if they win Saturday, regardless of how January shakes out, they will have reached half the low-end of my projected win total before their season was 30-games old.
Cynicism has its place. Negativity is a good armor against disappointment. But optimism has it’s place too. Sure a writer in my position has to be thick skinned against being called a homer, but for me part of the fun of writing about the Blazers is interacting with a team that I love. I would rather feel good about the only team I support and be wrong, than hate them just so I can be right.
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Victor Claver, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson
76ers Starting 5: PG Jrue Holiday, SG Evan Turner, SF Dorrell Wright, PF Thaddeus Young, C Lavoy Allen
Philly is very similar to Portland in a lot of ways. They’re a relatively young team working to build and develop around a couple young stars. The main differences between the Blazers and the Sixers is Philly’s bench and the fact they’ll very likely be in the hunt for the Playoffs. The Sixers are defensive minded team, they’ve given Portland headaches in the past, and if the Blazers aren’t careful they could be on the wrong end of a blowout.
That being said, some of what Portland has been doing very well at home over the course of this month can and should translate pretty well into their game plan for Saturday. Philly may have parted ways with Andre Igoudala, but they still have a lot of guys that thrive in the one-on-one. If the Blazers play the kind of man defense against the Sixers that got them a big win over the Kings, they’ll be in good shape.
If Portland can score inside, something they struggled with against the size of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, that wouldn’t be a bad thing either.
What to Watch For
- Can Portland avoid Nick Young going off. Nick Young is the kind of player bloggers love because he can go absolutely nova at the drop of a hat (and he’s a pretty outsized personality), and some fans hate because his glaring inconsistencies vastly outweigh his enormous upside and he very rarely helps a team win big games. Last season, Nick Young strolled into the Rose Garden as a member of the Washington Wizards, went 7-of-8 from three, and completely torched the Blazers to the tune of 35 points helping his team to a 15-point win. A month later, as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, Young went 2-of-5 from three for 10 points in a Clipper loss. If Portland can hold Nick Young to around 10 points, that would be very nice.
- Will the Blazers get meaningful contributions from their bench. Will Barton had a big night against the Kings and got some run in garbage time against the Lakers. He seems to be starting to find his groove. Joel Freeland got in against the Lakers (albeit once the game was long over) and made some jumpers. Serious contributions from either of these two guys could be huge. Victor Claver hasn’t done much, but he’ll probably get the start again. I feel like he still needs to earn it. Saturday could be his moment, although guarding Evan Turner is a bit of a tall order for a guy who has struggled some this season.
- Has Portland gotten over Friday’s whooping. The NBA schedule is a bit of a double-edged sword. There are so many games, that no loss can be dwelt on for very long. That being said, when a team gets down about one big loss, or one embarrassing performance, they can go on a bad roll for weeks since every game is closely followed by another. Last season’s Blazers fell apart after a tough overtime loss to the eventual Western Conference Champion Oklahoma City Thunder. That team, though, had expectations through the roof at the time. There aren’t, or at least shouldn’t be, big expectations for this team. They shouldn’t feel too bad about getting run out of the Staples Center. Winning on Saturday would prove that their over Friday, and they need to get over Friday, they’re about to go on another tough week-long road trip.