With the regular season soon upon us, the time is almost here to sit back and enjoy some basketball. Nothing can get the fans and team more invigorated than a strong start to the year, something that can actually be quite dependent on a team’s schedule itself.
To that end, I am happy to see that five of the Blazers’ first eight games will take place at home. The Blazers have always fed off of the rabid Rose Garden crowds and thus have traditionally been rather strong at home. Additionally, of these first eight games, two come against Phoenix and two come against Sacramento. For all of the discussion about how absolutely stacked the Western Conference will be this year, neither of these teams is expected to be in the race for the playoffs.
The two toughest teams during this opening slate are Houston and San Antonio, both of which take place within the safe confines of the Moda Center. The sneakily hardest game may come against Denver in Denver, where the high altitude usually gives visiting teams fits. If the Blazers can win one out of the three against San Antonio, Houston and Denver, and run the table for the rest, a perfectly reasonable 6-2 start to the season is in play. This would give players and fans a well-deserved shot of confidence to start the season and help to set the tone early. Of course, this is the NBA, so nothing is certain.
In addition to a relatively friendly start to the season, I was excited to see that five out of the Blazers’ final six games are at home. When push comes to shove and the Blazers are (hopefully) scrapping for a final playoff spot at the end of the year, this friendly quirk of the scheduling could turn out to be extremely fortuitous. If a playoff berth is on the line, the Rose Garden / Moda Center crowd will give the team everything they can – the place will be rocking.
The two final games of the season are against Golden State and the LA Clippers, though, two teams who are expected to make a playoff push this year. If either of them has their playoff seed already decided, they could opt at this point to rest their starters, which work in Portland’s favor. If they are still fighting for positioning just like the Blazers might be, then both of those games have potential to be all out slugfests, which is the best thing you can ask for as a fan.
However, what jumped out to me the most about the schedule this year is the lack of extended road trips. Last year, the Blazers had a road trip of seven games and one of six games, during which they went a combined 3-10. This year, the longest road trip the Blazers have is only five games long, and they only have two of them. This can actually make a huge difference, as having the road trips more staggered this year will allow the team to be rejuvenated at home more frequently.
Probably the biggest source of trouble for the Blazers, schedule-wise, will be the entire month of March, when both of the five-game road trips take place. March will be absolutely brutal for the Blazers. They will play 17 games, with the aforementioned ten on the road. Of those 17 games, an astounding 12 come against teams that made the playoffs this past year. And of those five remaining games, three come against Washington, New Orleans, and Dallas, teams that I expect to be at least contending for a playoff spot this season.
Alone, the first extended road trip (from March 7th to 14th) consists of games against: Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Memphis and New Orleans. This will probably be one of the toughest stretches for the team, and could set the tone in either a positive or a negative manner for the remainder of the gauntlet that is March.
If the Blazers can forge their way through March, the reward is an April that takes place largely at home, a stretch that can hopefully put the team on the fast track to the playoffs.